T-Bird Invitational

Eagleman, Henio top runners at T-Bird Invite

By Anne Griffis
Special to the Times

TUBA CITY, Oct. 6, 2011

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(Courtesy photo - Benjamin Nez)

Trio Greymountain, a 6th grader from Navajo Mountain, won first place last Saturday in the boys open race at the T-Bird Invitational in Tuba City.

Tuba City Boarding School's cross country team hosted the 42nd annual T-Bird Invitational on a picture-perfect Saturday, Oct. 1, with 20 teams competing in the girls' and boys' open and varsity races.

The 2.3-mile course started and finished in the football field and featured two loops, lots of sand, some narrow paths, and one huge challenge called "Heartbreak Hill."

"It's one of the hardest courses we have on the rez," said Nathaniel Henio (Red House, born for Red Streak Clan), individual champion of the boys' varsity race, with a time of 13:43.

"I knew coach Dodson wanted me to come in first," said Henio, an 8th grader at Tsehootsooi Middle School. "We do our worst here. The team only took fifth place last year."

"I came in first, so that's going to change it!" exulted Henio, who cleared the pack early and held a commanding lead that kept growing as he went into the final stretch. The T-Bird Invite was Henio's fourth consecutive win in varsity races this season.

Taking second place was Kaleb Sandoval of the defending state champions, Tuba City Boarding School. The T-Birds have won the boys' state title back-to-back three years in a row.

A basketball player, this was 8th grader Sandoval's first year running cross country.

"I thought I'd try it out," said the humble Sandoval, who finished at 14:04, and beat 88 other runners.

Cordell McCabe (Folded Arms Clan, born for Water Flows Together Clan), an 8th grade student at Little Singer School, finished third with a time of 14:48. Little Singer is a small grant school 16 miles north of Winslow.

McCabe's coach, Varian Begaye, said, "It's a great honor to coach him. He's a climber, he's competitive. He tries hard every single day. He comes to practice early and leaves late. He's a student first, a team member second, and then a runner."

The top three teams for the boys' varsity race were: Tuba City Boarding School, 39; Tsehootsooi, 97; and Chinle, 111.

In the girls' varsity race, Nikesha Eagleman (Salt People, born for Rosebud Sioux), of the Ganado Hornets snatched victory from Kandice Tanner (Towering House, born for Mexican Clan) of Tuba City Boarding School in the last 50 yards to the finish line.

"She had more power. She started sprinting!" conceded 7th grader Tanner, who slipped into second at 15:02, behind 8th grader Eagleman's first-place time of 15:00.

Daangoiina Haven (Mexican Clan, born for One Who Walks Around Clan), an 8th grade student at Ganado, placed third out of 82 runners, with a time of 15:53.

The Ganado Hornets girls' varsity team beat the others by far with 25 points followed by Tuba City Boarding School (54) and Kayenta (83).

"This is making me want to dance," said Ganado girls' cross-country head coach and PE teacher Lynette Lookingback.

Lookingback reminded the team of the three things to think about in order to keep winning: "Push yourself. Think positive, and don't let anything clutter up your mind. Don't give up - you can do this!"

In the T-Bird boys' open race, Trio Greymountain (Reed Clan, born for Salt Clan), a 6th grader from Navajo Mountain, took first place out of 85 runners with a time of 16:34.

"He's a natural runner. He doesn't have to push himself," explained Trio's dad, Carl. "He's from a family of runners. I've got two boys on state championship teams."

Isiah Brockie (Towering House Clan, born for Big Water Clan), a 7th grader from Tuba City Boarding School, took second, at 16:50.

Close behind, at 16:53, was third-place finisher Matthew Tuni, a 5th grader on the Kayenta Colts' team.

Top team rankings for the boys' open were: Tuba City Boarding School, with 19 points; Page, 51; and Mount Elden, 103.

Sharnelle Manygoats (Edgewater) of Tuba City Boarding School won the girls' open race with a time of 17:17, followed closely by her friend and teammate, Chana Arizona, at 17:20.

"Chana and I both had a hard time going up the hill and around Dodson Pond," Manygoats said, adding that the path got sandier.

The friends agreed that Manygoats' win was well deserved.

"She was sprinting the whole time!" laughed Arizona.

Jade Goodwill, a 7th grader from Tsehootsooi Middle School, took third place at 17:32, beating 108 other runners.

Top team rankings for the T-Bird girls' open were: Tuba City Boarding School with 25 points; Ganado, 50; and Tsehootsooi, 90.

One small runner in the girls' open, 6-year-old Nanaabah Yellowman (Bitterwater, born for Sioux), stole everyone's heart. She was registered as "unattached" but the green ribbons in her hair declared her loyalty to Tuba City Primary School.

Julia and Phil Coolie, husband-and-wife cross-country coaching partners, coordinated the meet.

Julia teaches 4th grade at Tuba City Boarding School. She and Phil have coached the cross-country team for five years.

"There were only seven runners when we started," said Phil. "The program is growing. Sixty runners came out this year. I wouldn't be surprised to have 80 next year."

Just like the teams, the T-Bird Invitational is growing in size and prestige. Phil's hope is to attract teams from the Phoenix metro area to compete in next year's invitational.

Micah Swenson, a coach from Cottonwood Middle School, south of Sedona, was on site to scout. A scheduling conflict prevented his team from entering, however he wanted to see what the rez teams were doing.

"Eight of the top 10 cross-country teams at state will be from the rez," Swenson said. "Cottonwood was last year's girls' state championship team. We don't want surprises, and the rez always has surprises. The key teams are here today, and I'm observing."

The well-organized event was staffed mostly by Tuba City Boarding School parents and volunteers who served as spotters, chute monitors, drink and snack servers, emergency staff and setup and cleanup crew.

Opening ceremonies began promptly at 9:30 a.m. with the posting of the colors by Tuba City High School's Marine JROTC, followed by the singing of the national anthem in Navajo by former T-Bird princess and runner Andrea Dodson.

Sgt. Major Michael Johnson said of his drill team, "Most of them are first year. They're still learning to become proficient, just learning to march. They're still uncomfortable with the rifles."

Echoing the theme of the day, Johnson said the drill team will quickly become competitive with practice and increased.

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