On the Tonto Apache Reservation south of Payson, a 10-year-old Frontier Elementary School fifth-grader with a knack for throwing the shot put is reaping the adulation of his family, friends and fellow tribal members.
The praise being heaped on Hunter Doka is due to his bronze-medal finish at the National Junior Olympic Track and Field Champion-ships. In the 12-year-history of the storied track and field program, Doka is the first Tonto Apache athlete to finish among the nation's top three.
The boy accomplished the feat July 29 at the JO shot put championships held at Hilmer Lodge Stadium on the campus of Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.
In winning the bronze medal in the bantam boys division, Doka uncorked a throw of 9.55 meters (31 feet, 4 inches).
That toss, however, might not have been his best.
"Hunter had a foul throw that looked like it was well over 10 meters and would have put him in first place," Tonto track coach Billy Joe Winchester.
The event winner, Shayne Armand, took the gold with a toss of 10.38 meters (34 feet, 3/3 inches.
"We came so close to having our first gold medal national champion, but we still made history," Winchester said.
The best previous national showing by a Tonto Apache Track and Field athlete was in 1999 in Omaha, Neb., where Derrick Hoosava finished fourth in the midget boys discus and Taylor Walden was fourth in the youth boys shot put.
Doka's top-three finish in the national showdown came as no surprise to his coach.
"Hunter has been my sleeper all season long," Winchester said.
"I just knew he would do well."
The coach also believes winning the bronze medal was the result of Doka's strong work ethic and support from his family.
"Whatever I asked him to do he did and when I was not around his grandmother and grandfather (Ivan and Arlene Smith) worked Hunter out." Winchester said. "I am so proud of his efforts and hard work all season long."
His grandfather, also the Tonto Apache Tribe Chairman, agreed it was Doka's practice habits that led to him winning the bronze medal.
"He has worked hard to be good," he said.
Doka qualified for the championships by finishing among the top three in the shot put at the Region X championships held July 12 to 15 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
At the Arizona State Junior Olympic Champion-ships two weeks prior to Region X, Doka finished second in the shot put.
The young athlete is no stranger to the national scene, having finished 15th among 32 national shot put qualifiers at the 2006 event held at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.
"I am kind of used to it (competing on the national stage)," he said. "I've (competed) since I was five (years-old)."
The prospect of Doka becoming one of the nation's best shot putters in the bantam boys division first became a reality at the 16th Annual Flagstaff Indoor Classic, held Feb. 18 in Walkup Skydome on the campus of Northern Arizona University. There, Doka set an age division record with a winning toss of 9.61 meters, which broke the previous mark of 9.37 meters set in 1992.
Next track and field season, Doka will move up to the midget boys division where he will be ranked among the best.
"At this point, he is No. 2 in Arizona and No. 11 in the nation," Winchester said. "So, I still have the feeling he will be the Tonto Apache's first national champion."
Also, by moving up a division, Doka will be eligible to participate in the discus event.
The bantam group he participated in this past season did not feature discus competition.
Winchester is optimistic Doka will do well during his first year in the discus, "He already has thrown in the upper 70s (feet) -- that is very good."
Doka admits that track and field is his first love, but he also likes other sports.
"I play football and basketball in the town leagues and I like golf, too," he said.
Winchester, who has coached almost every athlete who has competed on the Tonto track team, sees a bright future for the budding young star, "he has the world in his hands if he wants it."