A 14-year-old member of the Tonto Apache Tribe has qualified to compete in the prestigious 45th USA Track and Field Championships to be held July 26-31 in Cessna Stadium on the campus of Wichita State University in Wichita, Kan.
Hunter Doka earned the coveted berth by finishing fifth in the youth boys shot put event at the Junior Olympics Region 10 Championships held July 18 at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.
At Region 10, the teen threw 11.13 meters, or 36 feet, 6.25 inches, to finish fifth among 14 qualifiers from a five state area.
“It wasn’t his best throw, he has thrown better,” said coach Rosie Mason, who took over the reins of the Tonto Apache track team following the death of longtime coach Billy Joe Winchester.
Dominic Sinatra, the winner of the Region 10 boys shot put title, threw 12.70 meters, or 41 feet, 8 inches.
At the national championships, Doka will be competing alongside the next generation of track and field stars. Many of today’s Olympic standouts began their careers competing in the USATF Junior Olympic program.
The upcoming trip to nationals won’t be the first for Doka or a Tonto tribal member.
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).
Following the throw, Winchester, who had been with the team since its inception, said, “We came so close to having our first gold medal national champion, but we still made history.”
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.
Hunter is not the only member of his family who has shined on the JO track and field circuit.
His older brother, Val, was a consistent medal winner in both the shot put and discus.
In 2006, he qualified for the USATF Junior Olympic Championships in Baltimore, Md. where he finished 17th among the 29 national qualifiers.
Both Val and Hunter have also shined on the Grand Canyon Games Native American track and field circuit.
Under Winchester, the Tonto team flourished becoming a force on the state and national sports scene.
Following his death, the team struggled before tribal members hired Mason to inject new life into the team.
Today, Skylar Thomas, Reesa Johnson and Doka form the nucleus of a team that Mason hopes will regain the luster it once owned.
Among the former Tonto track and field members who became some of the finest young athletes in the nation were Derrick Hoosava, Miguel Lopez, Kayle Talgo, Mike Waterman, Jennifer Flores, Charley Burdette, Waylon, Josh and 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.
As Athletes of the Year, the Tonto team and Winchester represented the amateur games at almost every ceremony and competition that year.
One year after receiving the Athletes of the Year awards, Winchester was named the recipient of the Arizona Governor’s Council on Health, Physical Fitness and Sports’ “Outstanding Leadership Award” for his work with the Tonto team.
At the time, Winchester said receiving the award was an honor, one that would not have been possible without the support of Tonto Apache member Ivan Smith, Val and Hunter Doka’s grandfather. Smith later accompanied Winchester to the awards ceremony.