Tonto Apache Nearly Misses Chance At Regional

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One of the most bizarre stories in youth prep sports unfolded at a Junior Olympics state track and field meet June 4 and 5 at Mesa Community College.

According to Tonto Apache track coach Billy Joe Winchester, a 24-year-old man entered the intermediate boys (14 to 17 years) shot-put event.

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Tonto Apache Track and Field team members Justin Johnson (left) and Charlie Lopez qualified for the Junior Olympics Region X championships with top-three finishes in the state championships.

"I'd never seen anything like that happen before," Winchester said.

Prior to being discovered, the man was allowed to compete and his throws were included in the final standings. His presence in the event's final top-three finishers dropped Tonto Apache team member Justin Johnson into fourth. That meant Johnson wouldn't reach his goal of a top-three showing and the resulting berth in the Region X meet July 14 to 17 in Denver.

With his failure to qualify, Johnson left the meet disheartened.

"He was pretty sad," Winchester said.

The day after the meet, the coach picked up the medals at MCC and found out Johnson had been awarded a third-place medal which would qualify him for the Region X showdown.

"I didn't want to say anything to Justin until I made sure he was really third," Winchester said.

The coach checked with Junior Olympics officials and was told about the older, ineligible entrant.

"(The officials) asked him why he did it and he said he wanted to see how he would do against younger kids," Winchester said.

The coach later related the good news to Johnson that he had indeed qualified for the trip to Denver.

Other Tonto Apache Region X qualifiers from the state meet include Cassie Johnson (bantam girls shot-put), Shane Levine (youth boys shot-put and discus), Jarred Begay (youth boys discus), Charlie Lopez (young men shot-put) and Kindall Begay (young women shot-put and discus).

Jarred Begay and Kindall Begay advance to Region X as state champions in their events.

Top three finishers in Denver will earn berths the national championships July 26 to 31 in Indianapolis.

"The kids have been working hard this season and I am hoping they all make it,' Winchester said.

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