The laurels continue to roll in for the Tonto Apache Track and Field team.
Only last fall, the squad was selected the Grand Canyon Game's "Male and Female Athletes of the Year."
The prestigious award caught almost everyone by surprise, since it has traditionally gone to individual athletes who achieved success in the annual Olympic-style competition.
The most recent accolade given the local team was announced early this week when coach Billy Joe Winchester was named the recipient of the Arizona Governor's Council on Health, Physical Fitness and Sports' "Outstanding Leadership Award."
In a letter informing Winchester of the citation, council executive director Andy Dzurinko wrote "your accomplishments serve as an outstanding example for others."
Winchester said receiving the award was an honor, one that would not have been possible without the support of Tonto Apache member Ivan Smith. The coach said he will ask Smith to accompany him to the awards ceremony.
"Without him, this (track and field team) would not be possible," he said.
Winchester and 12 others chosen by the council will be publicly recognized March 28 during a pre-game ceremony at the Phoenix Suns vs. Cleveland Cavaliers game. The recipients will gather early that afternoon at Bank One Ballpark for the council's 11th Annual Awards program hosted by Dzurinko. Then, the guests will walk to America West Arena where the Suns will host a pre-game reception in the VIP lounge.
As the longtime coach of the Tonto Apache team, Winchester has built the squad into one of the most competitive in amateur track and field circles. Each spring and summer season, team members travel throughout the state competing on the sports circuit.
Several Tonto Apache athletes have attained the pinnacle of sports success by qualifying for the USA Track and Field National Championships. Only two weeks ago, the team captured the championships of the Grand Canyon State Winter Games held at Tolleson High School. With just 12 athletes participating, the Tonto Apaches racked up a meet-winning 180 points.
Although the spring season is just getting under way, the coach is already devising plans for a campaign he predicts could be the most successful ever for the tribe team.
OTHER 2001 AWARD WINNERS
Public School Award Salt River Elementary School;
Professional Preparation Award Sedona Red Rock High School;
Outstanding Leadership Award Kristi Kidwell, Phoenix Triathlon Club;
Distinguished Services Award Frank Kush, Arizona State University;
Distinguished Services Award Baldy Castillo, retired ASU track/field coach;
Senior Award Rose Steward, triathlete;
Community Service Award Yuma Says No To Drugs;
Adapted Sports and Recreation Award James Prenovost, Mary Ann Cathopoulis, Adapted Skiing Program.