Track Dynasty Rooted In Rim Country

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Most everyone in the Rim Country remembers Shaun, Ellie, Whitney and Kari Hardt.

In the early 2000s, Shaun coached the Lady Longhorn basketball team, Ellie — his wife — coached track and field, and Whitney and Kari — the pair’s two daughters — were local record-setting long distance runners before the family moved from Payson to Eagar-Springerville. Whitney also starred for the Lady Horn basketball team.

There was a Hardt family member, however, who was a bit too young when the family lived in Payson to have much of a chance to put his mark on the sports scene as his parents and sisters did.

Sherod Hardt, now 18 and a senior at Queen Creek High School, has become one of the finest cross-country runners in Arizona.

In November, he closed out his prep career by winning the Class 4A D-1 state championship, covering the 5K course in 15 minutes, 32.4 seconds.

His accomplishments this season have him on the verge of earning a college scholarship just as his two sisters did.

He’s receiving interest from ASU, Arizona, BYU and other schools.

Whitney once ran for ASU, and Kari now runs for the Sun Devils. Shaun now coaches the Queen Creek boys’ cross-country team and Ellie is head of the girls’ program.

Shaun and Ellie’s uncle, Chuck Hardt, recently retired from Payson High School after a long career in which he led the cross country and track and field teams to numerous region and state championships.

Shaun continues to hold the Payson High School mile record of 4:30, a mark he set as a senior in 1983.

Spaghetti for dinner

With the Payson High School wrestling team’s annual benefit dinner only about a month away, it’s time to mark the event on the calendar and begin to lay plans for the family to enjoy it.

The benefit will be held 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.,Thursday, Jan. 21 in the Rim Country Middle School cafeteria. All-you-can-eat tickets are $5 per person or $25 per family. Tickets are available from any wrestler, or at the door.

For fans, the dinner will serve as a tune-up for some good old-fashioned Payson wrestling action because the following two days, the Horns host the Payson Invitational in Wilson Dome.

For the benefit dinner, booster club member Jacque Lee will oversee the event.

A crew of about six volunteers, led by longtime chef Mark Fumusa and Lee, will spend the entire day cooking a spaghetti feast for the more than 500 people expected to attend. The cooks will use about 110 pounds of spaghetti noodles, 120 pounds of ground beef, four gallons of homemade salad dressing and 100 pounds of flour for delicious homemade rolls prepared by Lee.

As tasty and satisfying as the homemade meals are, they have become much more than an Italian dinner.

“It’s a time and place where we can all gather and enjoy the fellowship of one another,” said longtime assistant wrestling coach and PHS counselor Don Heizer. “It’s the type of thing we can do in a small town.”

The benefit also produces money the wrestling team uses for travel and to purchase equipment not available in the school’s athletic budget.

With the legislature now wreaking havoc on school budgets, the monetary need is now greater than ever.

Heizer estimates the dinners can earn more than $2,000 annually, thanks to donations of food items.

The former coach also sees the dinners as events that benefit everyone. “It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “The team earns the money it needs and the people get a great meal at a low price.”

Heizer also fondly recalls the origin of the spaghetti dinners more than two decades ago.

“Dennis (Pirch, former PHS wrestling coach) and I were looking for ways to earn money so the kids could go to Disneyland during the Christmas vacation,” he said.

“We came up with the spaghetti dinners. They earned good money, and we’ve never stopped doing them.”

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