Fierce and frequent competition has highlighted the July agenda of the Tonto Apache Track and Field team.
During the month, squad members competed in the Junior Olympic Region 10 Championships in El Paso, Texas, the Junior Olympic National Championships in Omaha, Neb. and the inaugural Grand Canyon State Native American Games in Flagstaff.
Although the Junior Olympics meets were national and regional competitions, the Grand Canyon Games might have been the young tracksters' most cherished challenges.
"For all the kids and parents, the games were history in the making and very important to them and all Native Americans in the state," coach Billy Joe Winchester said.
At the games, which were held July 27 at Northern Arizona University, the Tonto Apache athletes showcased their best skills against reservation teams from around the state. When the dust settled, they earned 38 medals and a first-place team showing. The final tally revealed the Tonto Apaches racked up 14 gold, 15 silver and nine bronze medals.
Only days before the team traveled to Flagstaff to compete in the Native American Games, the squad was in Omaha participating in the Junior Olympics nationals.
Battling against some of the nation's best young track and field athletes, a trio of Tonto Apache members managed top-20 finishes.
In the bantam boys division, Valentino Doka finished ninth in the shot-put. Kindall Begay took 12th in the youth girls discus and Miguel Lopez was 19th in the midget boys discus.
Begay also qualified for the nationals in the shot-put, but opted not to participate because the event was scheduled on the day the Native American games were to be contested.
"She would have missed the first games and she didn't want to do that," Winchester said.
The Junior Olympics meet was slated for July 23 to 27, but July 25, the team flew home to prepare for the GC Native clashes.
"It was a very busy time," Winchester said.
The youngsters who represented the Tonto Apache team in Omaha qualified for the competition at the Region 10 meet in early July.
Doka was the team's lone first-place qualifier in El Paso, where he captured the bantam boys shot-put title.
Begay was second in both the youth girls shot-put and discus.
Miguel Lopez earned the team's other silver medal, placing second in the midget boys discus.
Other region 10 medalists were Charlie Lopez (9th; youth boys discus), Alex Winchester (10th; intermediate boys discus) and Hunter Hardt (6th; youth boys discus).
Although the Tonto team members performed well in the regional showdown, some were struggling to overcome the loss of a loved one.
"Two days before we were to leave, Charlie (Lopez), Miguel (Lopez) and Valentino Doka's grandmother died," Winchester said.
Although the youngsters were grieving, they opted to attend the competition.
"They felt their grandmother would want them to go," Winchester said. They dedicated their performances to their grandmother.
The three competitions mark the conclusion of the spring and summer track and field season for Winchester and his charges.
Although the month was a hectic one, the coach says he'll miss the almost daily contact with the athletes.
Results from Native American Games
Stephanie Begay: 2nd, 880M; 3rd, long jump; 1st, discus; 3rd, shot-put.
Cassandra Cly: 1st, 880M; 2nd, shot-put; 2nd, long jump; 3rd, discus.
Paul Burdette: 1st, shot-put; 1st, discus.
Junior Burdette: 2nd, shot-put; 2nd, discus.
Curtis Begay: 2nd, shot-put; 2nd, discus.
Ilene Begay: 3rd, shot-put; 3rd, discus; 3rd, long jump; 3rd, javelin.
Lrrada Begay: 2nd, discus; 2nd, shot-put; 2nd, long jump; 1st, javelin.
Heather Waterman: 2nd, discus.
Kindall Begay: 1st, discus; 1st, shot-put.
Charlie Lopez: 1st, shot-put; 1st, discus.
Valentino Doka: 1st, shot-put; 1st, discus.
Miguel Lopez: 1st, shot-put; 2nd, discus.
Jarred Begay: 2nd, shot-put; 1st, discus.
Briana Cly: 2nd, 100M; 2nd, long jump.
Summer Cly: 3rd, 100M; 2nd, shot-put.
Hunter Doka: 1st, 100M; 3rd, long jump.