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Running Wild: 5 Native Track Teams of Champions

ICTMN caught up with five of the most prolific distance running schools in Indian country.

History tells us that three of the most compelling runners in U.S. Olympic history were Native American.

Jim Thorpe (Sac & Fox), won the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Two-time Olympian Lewis Tewanima (Hopi) also made his mark in Stockholm, winning the silver medal in the 10,000 meters in record time. And Billy Mills gold-medal win at the Tokyo Games in 1964 is considered the No. 2 story in Runner’s World magazine’s 10 greatest moments in Olympic distance running history.

Thorpe and Tewanima were educated at Carlisle Indian School. Mills (Lakota) went to Haskell Indian School and later to Kansas University. Who knows where the next great Native runner will come from? In hopes of finding out, ICTMN caught up with five of the most prolific distance running schools in Indian country.

School: Hopi High School

State: Keams Canyon, Arizona

Tribe: Hopi

Current coach: Rick Baker

Achievements: The Hopi boys cross country team just won its 25th straight Arizona state championship, the longest streak in the country, and a number forever etched in the minds and hearts of the Hopi Nation. Several of Tewanima's descendants were on hand to celebrate No.25, and Hopi senior Slim Jackson was right in the middle of it. This is a program rich in tradition with fathers, brothers, uncles, sons and maybe even grandsons coming through. Juwan Nuvayokva and Devan Lonayaona were both three-time individual state champs, and later All-Americans at Northern Arizona University.

Comment: “Running isn’t just an exercise in Hopi culture, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years,” Hopi coach Rick Baker said. “I think 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.”

School: Browning High School

State: Browning, Montana

Tribe: Blackfeet

Current coach: Lyle Omeasoo

Achievements: The boys cross country program has won 22 Montana state championships, dating back to 1971. Browning won 11 straight titles from 1974 to 1984. After Hardin snapped the streak in 1985, Browning jumped back on the horse and won four of the next five, including back-to-back titles in 1986-87 and 1990-91. Browning added five more titles in the 2000s, but hasn’t won again since 2007.

Comments: “It’s a very traditional thing on the Blackfeet reservation to run,” coach Lyle Omeasoo said. “It’s very important to be able to run on the varsity team because that’s the top group of guys. But, I would say our junior varsity is just as strong. But if you got bumped off the varsity because someone from the JV was running better, you worked your butt off to get back. I ran in the late 80s when I was in high school. My whole family ran, there was 12 of us. My brother Fernandel Omeasoo was the first from Montana to win four straight state titles.”

School: Wyoming Indian School

State: Ethete, Wyoming

Tribes: Shoshone/Arapaho

Current coach: Chico Her Many Horses

Achievements: The Chiefs have won eight consecutive Wyoming Class 2A boys state cross country championships, and 11 of the past 12 titles. With the 2014 championship, Wyoming Indian won its 20th overall title in school history.

Caleb Her Many Horses, Chico’s son, won three consecutive individual titles (2007-09), and Wilson Clifford won three individual championships (2010, 2012, 2013) in his four-year varsity career.

Comments: “We spend a lot of time working on the mental aspects of running, like the warriors did preparing for battle in the days of old,” coach Chico Her Many Horses said. “We take a lot of pride in who we are, and who we represent. We host a meet here on the Wind River reservation every year. The competition ends when the race is over. After we’re done running, we always feed the people, like after a sweat or a ceremony. We don’t have much, but we share what we do have because that’s the way we were taught.”

RELATED: David Outruns Goliath: Wyoming Indian School’s Cross-Country Team Dominates

School: Sequoyah High School

State: Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Tribe: Cherokee

Current coach: Sam HorseChief

Achievements: Sequoyah established itself in the Oklahoma state cross country championships with three separate dynasties. The boys team won back-to-back titles in 1964-65 and again in 1969. They didn’t win another until the 90s when they topped the field in both 1993 and 1995. The girls team won its first state championship in 1992. The boys ran off another four consecutive titles to usher in the 21st Century (2003-2006).

Comments: “We have quite a (distance running) history here, 2005 was our biggest year when both the girls and the boys won state titles,” Sequoyah athletic director Marcus Crittenden said. “This year was special on an individual basis. Terrance Nofire became the first four-time all-state winner in Sequoyah history. He never did win a state race, but he was always a contender. He finished second in 2012, and fourth this year to wrap up his career.”

School: Albuquerque Academy

State: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Tribe: Navajo

Current coach: Adam Kedge

Achievements: The Albuquerque Academy has won six New Mexico boys state cross country championships (2002–2007), in the 2000s, under the direction of Adam Kedge. They also excelled at the national level at the Nike Cross Nationals (formerly Nike Team Nationals) five of the six years it has been in existence. The most notable was a third-place finish in 2007. The academy also placed fifth in 2009. Cody Bratzler was the top finisher in the 2014 state meet, finishing 18th. Sophomore Jordan Lesansee comes from a long line of distance runners, dating back to both grandfathers, his father and four older brothers.

Comments: Coach Kedge was unavailable for comment.