Among the 11 new athletes who have turned out for the Tonto Apache track and field team is a nationally acclaimed 73-year-old long distance runner.
Tom Cooka, a Hopi Native American who has competed successful in the National Senior Olympics, joined the local team at the urging of Tonto coach Billy Joe Winchester.
"He still runs like the wind," Winchester said.
Cooka joins the team fresh from winning three gold medals at the Arizona State Senior Olympics in Phoenix. The road warrior captured senior first places in the 800 (3:14.59), 1,500 (6:35.5) and 3,000 meters (14:33.9).
Although he was first, Cooka was not satisfied with his times.
"Those weren't the best I've done," he said. "I wasn't really prepared. I had to just gut those races out."
Cooka and 27 of his Tonto Apache teammates, most of whom are teenagers, traveled Feb. 15 to Northern Arizona University where they participated in the Flagstaff Indoor Classic.
Pitted against 57 club teams from around the southwest, the Tonto Apaches emerged victorious mostly because of standout performances in the shot-put events.
First-place finishers included Cassie Johnson (bantam girls), Valentino Doka (midget boys), Kindall Begay (junior girls) and Jordan Hinton (youth boys).
First-year team member George Redwine (young men) earned second-place honors.
Andrea Hinton (bantam girls), Cody Waterman (midget boys), Shane Levine (youth boys) and Alex Winchester (young men) all earned bronze medals in the shot put.
Fourth place went to Skyler Thomas (bantam boys) and Josh Quotskuyva (young men).
The team was without two of its veteran team members -- Charlie Lopez and Michael Waterman. Lopez was recovering from an injury and Waterman was ill.
Following the season-opening meet, Winchester said he feels an aura of optimism about this team.
"With a lot of hard work, we could be the No. 1 team in the nation," he said. "After what we did in Flagstaff, it's easy to see why I'm excited about this team.