The pride of the Tonto Apache nation shined bright at the 2006 USATF Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships where two young tribal members threw their way to top-20 finishes in the shot put.
Hunter Doka, competing in the Bantam Boys age/sex division threw the shot 24 feet, 4 inches to finish 15th among the 32 national qualifiers. Amir Patterson of the Valley United Track Club threw 32 feet to win the gold medal.
In the Youth Boys division, Hunter's older brother, Val, was 17th with a heave of 38 feet, 8 inches. Twenty-nine national qualifiers competed in the division won by Cody Snyder with a throw of 52 feet, 3 inches.
The national championships were held July 25 through July 30 at Hughes Stadium on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md. More than 6,000 athletes from around the country participated in the meet.
The national JO meet is one of the most prestigious young competitions in the country. Many of today's Olympic stars began their track and field careers competing in the JO program.
To qualify for the national championships, the Dokas had to finish among the top three at the Arizona State and Region 10 championships held this past spring.
Tonto Track and Field coach Billy Joe Winchester lauded the brothers for their pursuit of national excellence.
"If people would just remember back in February, over 50,000 young athletes started their journey to the Nationals and very few made it," he said. "Hunter and Val were among those that made their dreams come true."
For Val Doka, his appearance in the national finals marked the culmination of a story that might be the stuff of which movies are made.
The tale begins last February in Flagstaff where Val won the 16th Annual USA Track and Field Arizona Indoor Classic youth division shot put championship while throwing with a broken left arm.
"His throw of 11.83 meters was just short of the USA Youth Indoor shot put record," Winchester said at the time. "I can't wait to see him perform without a cast on his arm."
Doka's ascension to the USA track title began in January just as preseason practices for the Tonto Apache team were kicking off.
"He did not practice with our team because he was playing basketball," Winchester said.
"But Val broke his left arm and could not play basketball anymore this season.
"So, his mother checked with his doctor to see if he could throw the shot put and discus with a cast on his arm."
After receiving the physician's OK to participate, Doka joined the track team.
Doka shook off the effects of the broken arm and transformed himself into one of the finest young shot putters in the nation.
The two brothers now join a long list of former Tonto track and field members who became some of the finest young athletes in the nation. They include Derrick Hoosava, Miguel Lopez, Kayle Talgo, Mike Waterman, Jennifer Flores, Charley Burdette, Waylon, Josh Garrett Quotskuyva and Kindall Begay.
In fall 2000, the efforts of the young athletes earned the Tonto Apache Track team honors as the Grand Canyon State Games Male and Female Athletes of the Year.
In the previous eight-year history of the GCS games, individuals were chosen athletes of the year.
But in 2000, then-GC Games executive director Erik Widmark and his staff opted to give the two awards to the Tonto boys and girls team.
The reason officials decided to break with tradition and tap the Apache teams, Widmark said, was partly due to the success of Tonto Apache contingent at both the Tucson and Tempe games held the previous summer.
"Winning is important; they've won something like 100 medals over the past four years, but we also have a rather stringent criteria (for the honorees) which includes high character and morals," Widmark said.
In addition to Winchester praising the Doka brothers for their national showings this season, he cited those team members who came up just shy of earning berths to nationals.
"We on the Tonto Apache Reservation are very proud of Val, Hunter and all the kids that were so close (to qualifying). Everyone did a great job this season."
-- To reach Max Foster call 474-5251 ext. 114 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.