Rim Athletes Prep For Native American Games

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Rim country resident Tom Cooka, 73, will be among the local athletes scheduled to compete in the Lori Piestewa National Native American Games July 17 and 20 in Flagstaff.

Cooka -- National Senior Olympic champion --ill join the Tonto Apache team at the games. Last year, Cooka competed in seven events and won six gold medals

The Tonto Apache team members -- Michael Waterman, Josh Quotskuyva, Paul Burdette, Jordon Hinton, Valentino Doka, Shauntel Begay and Alex Winchester -- enter the games as defending team champions. The athletes also will be fresh off competing in the Region 10 Junior Olympic Championship July 9 to 11 at Glendale Community College.

The Tonto Apache athletes have long been making a name for themselves in Junior Olympic competition and are expected to continue their domination of the Native American games. Waterman advances to Flagstaff as a state Junior Olympic age group silver medalist in the discus and shot put.

Also earning second place state Junior Olympic honors were Hinton (midget boys shot put), Winchester (intermediate boys shot put and discus) and Doka (midget boys shot put).

Tonto Apache state bronze medalists included Quotskuyva (young men discus and javelin), Hinton (midget boys shot put) Begay (young women's javelin).

Doka was a fourth-place finisher in the midget boys shot put. Burdette finished fourth in the young men's discus.

The Tonto Apache team is coached by former Arizona State University football player Billy Joe Winchester.

Cooka, a member of the Hopi tribe who grew up near Winslow and retired from the Santa Fe Railroad after almost 40 years, excels in long distance running. At the National Senior Olympics in Virginia Beach last month, Cook competed in the 800 meters, 1,500 meters and the 5K and 10K road races.

His best showing was a bronze medal finish in the 10K. In the 800, he was seventh and he was fifth in both the 1,500 and 5K.

Two years ago at the National Senior Olympics held in Baton Rouge, La., Cook won the 10K gold medal. On occasion, Cooka will turn away from his long distance specialties and try new events. Such was the case last summer at the Native American games when he won a gold medal in the shot put and 200-meter dash.

Although Cooka has traveled the United States competing at about every athletic venue possible, he says the GC Native American Games are unique in that they allow tribe members, young and old alike, to wage friendly competition against one another.

Among his fondest memories of the inaugural games was watching an older Navajo woman win five track and field gold medals. Had the Native American Games not existed, she might not have had the opportunity to showcase her talents, Cooka said.

Another thrill for Cooka was watching the Tonto Apache squad stake claim to the team championship.

Second annual competition

The games, which are open to any athlete who can prove at least 1/4 Native American heritage, are co-sponsored by the Grand Canyon State games. Track and field and volleyball events will be held in Flagstaff. Basketball, which is an immensely popular sport on the northern Arizona reservations, will be contested in Tuba City. Softball is slated to be held in Page.

Like the Grand Canyon State Games, the Native American clashes are open to athletes of all ages and abilities.

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