Tonto Apache track team star Val Doka, a state fourth-place finisher last year, stamped himself a possible USA Track and Field national qualifier by winning the shot put at the Flagstaff Indoor Classic.
Competing in the intermediate boys division during the Feb. 24 meet, Doka threw 42 feet, 2.25 inches to win the gold medal.
Also for the Tonto tracksters, Ressa Johnson was first in the bantam girls shot put.
Her efforts drew praise from long time coach Billy Joe Winchester.
"She has made large steps to improve," he said. "Her father and her brother are working her real hard and it is starting to pay off."
Other shot put event medal winners at the Indoor Classic were Jarred Begay (intermediate boys; fifth), Shane Levine (young men; fifth) and Cassie Johnson (youth girls; fifth).
On to Glendale
After opening the youth track and field season in Flagstaff, the Tonto team returned to action March 1 at Glendale Community College.
There, Val Doka continued his winning ways claiming both the intermediate boys shot put and discus titles.
Also in the division shot put event, Trevor Thomas was second and Landis Quade third. In the discus, Landis Quade was second, Barkley Quade third and Thomas fourth.
The group's performance prompted Winchester to quip, "we have a very strong intermediate boys group."
In the young men division, Levine withdrew after suffering an injury.
"He was hurting his arm throwing the shot put," Winchester said. "We'll have to see how he does down the road."
Among the midget boys, Hunter Doka took first in the shot put and second in the discus.
"This was Hunter's first time throwing the discus," Winchester said.
Last year, as a 10-year-old, Doka became the first athlete in the 12-year history of the Tonto Apache track team to finish in the top three at a National Junior Olympic meet.
The boy accomplished the feat July 29, 2007 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).
A long, proud history
The Tonto team's newest medal winners now join a long list of former 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, Jordan Hinton, Waylon Quotskuyva, Josh Garrett 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.
Joins coaching staff
This season, Sabrina Campbell has joined Winchester on the coaching staff.
Next up for the track team is the Phoenix Invitational to be held April 5 and 6 at Glendale College. If any of the team members qualify for the post-season championships, the Region X finals will be held next fall in El Paso, Texas and the finals in Richmond, Va.