Veteran Tonto Apache track and field coach Billy Joe Winchester will spin an inspiring, feel-good story to just about anyone who'll listen.
The tale centers on 13-year-old Val Doka who 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. "I can't wait to see him perform without a cast on his arm."
The saga of Doka's ascension to the track title began weeks ago 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.
His plunge into the world of amateur track and field was Feb. 18 at the prestigious Indoor Classic held in Northern Arizona University Walkup Skydome. The Classic draws some of the finest athletes every year -- both youth and adult -- from around the state.
"He was a little afraid to start in such a big track meet," Winchester said. "He was nervous."
But he overcame his case of jitters quickly.
"I couldn't believe what happened when he won the shot put," Winchester said. "It was unbelievable to throw with a cast on and win."
Doka's stirring performance helped propel the Tonto team to a 15th place finish among the 51 teams entered in the meet.
"Not bad for such a small club," Winchester said. "The kids performed way ahead of their efforts from last year."
In addition to Doka's first place finish, the Tonto team received gold medal showings from Kindall Begay and Jordan Hinton.
Begay won the young women's division shot put and Hinton captured the intermediate boys shot put title.
Winchester lauded Hinton's effort, saying the young man had moved up an age group since last season and was throwing the heavier 12-pound shot for the first time.
"Maybe these kids do better if the shot is heavier," he deadpanned.
The coach also praised the efforts of Hunter Doka, Val's younger brother, in the bantam boys shot put event.
"He finished in second place but lost only to the California state champion by about six inches," Winchester said. "Hunter is becoming one of the top throwers in the nation."
Also in the shot put event at the Flagstaff meet: Andrea Hinton (bantam girls) was third, Jarred Begay (intermediate boys) fourth, Ressa Johnson (bantam girls) fifth and Cassie Johnson (midget girls) sixth. Shawnee Hinton took seventh among the youth girls.
Next up for the Tonto track team are appearances at the Bobcat Relays at Mesa Community College (March 4), the Phoenix Invitational (April 1 and 2), the Las Vegas Invitational (May 8), the Junior Olympic championships in Phoenix (June 10 and 11, and June 17 and 18) and the Youth Athletics Nationals in Greensboro, N.C. (June 27 to July 2).
If any team members should qualify for the Junior Olympic National Championships, they will be held July 25 to 30 in Greensboro, N.C.