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Hopi High School Cross-Country Team Carrying On Proud Tradition

The proud tradition of Hopi runners goes a long distance!

The Hopi Nation has always known how to walk in harmony and run with pride. Where other Native Americans dance or celebrate in ceremony for the good of the people, the Hopi run.

When Hopi High School in Keams Canyon, Ariz. hired Rick Baker as a physical education instructor back in 1987, school administrators asked him to start a cross-country program. Baker, 56, who grew up in the Hopi village of Tewa and ran cross-country 80 miles away from his home at Winslow High, didn’t just build a program - he built a dynasty.

The 2015 Hopi cross-country team after winning its 26th consecutive state championship - RunHopi Facebook photo

The Hopi Bruins won their first Arizona state cross-country championship in 1990 and haven’t lost one since. Their streak of 26 consecutive titles is the longest in the nation for cross-country and the fourth-longest active run for any high school sport, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“Running isn’t just an exercise in Hopi culture, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years,” Baker told ICTMN. “We have kids that really want to run. Since we have this tradition of running, they all want to be a part of it. They’re willing to come out and put their heart into it and do everything we ask of them. They don’t want to be the team that breaks the streak, so that’s kind of motivation for us.”

The streak has had its special moments, including the 1999 race when Hopi posted a perfect score, placing the top five runners. Two runners have gone on to get a college education and become NCAA All-Americans at Northern Arizona University. Now Hopi High is starting to see a new evolution within the program, bringing even closer past ties to present lives.

Juwan Nuvayokva (1993-96) and Devan Lomayaoma (1996-99) are two of the most prominent runners to come through Baker’s program. They combined for five individual state titles in eight years and went on to become college All-Americans at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. Nuvayokva, 37, teaches P.E. at the junior high school and is Baker’s assistant.

(AP Photo-Felicia Fonseca) Hopi High School crosscountry coach has directed his teams to 26 consecutive Arizona state championships.

Lomayaoma was the leader in the perfect score in his final race for Hopi High. He, along with Ralston Lamson, Evan Horace, Delwyn Takla and Christopher Lowe finished 1-through-5, respectively Lomayaoma, 33, is now a physical education instructor and coach at Second Mesa Elementary school and preparing young runners for what they will see at the high school level.

Both Nuvayokva and Lomayaoma grew up listening to stories of legendary Hopi runner Louis Tewanima, a two-time Olympian who was the silver medalist in the 10,000-meter race at the Stockholm Games in 1912.

Both trained at 6,000 feet above sea level on the 12-village Hopi reservation, which is surrounded by Navajo land. They were always within sight of Humphreys Peak and a mountain range sacred to the Hopi. They took those constant reminders of their heritage and culture with them wherever they went. Now they are back home, helping Hopi High improve on its dynasty one step at a time.

(RunHopi Facebook) - A commemerative T-shirt with all of the names that contributed to the streak was put together after they won No. 25

Nuvayokva remained humble in his explanation of Hopi running and the culture in an interview with the New York Times. Yes, there is a competitive nature to the sport. But there is also purpose to running that goes far beyond racing to win. Running is as much spiritual as it is physical. Dances involve running. They run for rain, they participate in the cultural runs, running is ingrained into all aspects of their lives. “It’s different than the Anglo culture, where you run and it’s every man for himself,” Nuvayokva told the Times. “When I competed in the NCAA, you’re trying to beat others. Here, you do it for others.”

Their Hopi High running tradition has come full circle. “The boys that are running on Rick Baker’s current team actually ran for me a couple of years ago at the elementary level,” Lomayaoma said.

ESPN is expected to air a documentary on the Hopi High School running tradition sometime in the spring.