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Turning Heart brings runners to Newell Meet

Tispaye Topa determined to build a better program

Topa Sky Hawks (L-R) Coach Jeff Turning Heart, Jason Meeter, Dennis Sands, Stetson Cavanaugh, (kneeling) Stace LeCompte, Xavier Charger

Topa Sky Hawks (L-R) Coach Jeff Turning Heart, Jason Meeter, Dennis Sands, Stetson Cavanaugh, (kneeling) Stace LeCompte, Xavier Charger

NEWELL—Last Friday afternoon cross country teams arrived at the Newell golf course to perfect running conditions. The nine-hole golf course was laid out in two laps of 1.55 miles, to reach the regulation 3.1 mile course. Jonathan Burkhalter of Bison kept up the Burkhalter family excellence by winning the Boys varsity in a time of 16:12. Dylan Mollman, McIntosh, was second, 17:03; Beau Dubray, Timber Lake, third, 17:10; Nathaniel Kirby, Newell, fourth, 17:15, and Royale Elk Eagle, Harding County, fifth at 17:29.

Host Newell won both the Boys and Girls varsity titles.

Alexis Stephan, Wall, won the Girls varsity in a tight bunch at the end, with a time of 19:50; Lexa Britzlaff, Newell, second, 20:10; Macy Martin, Dupree, 20:11; Austin Alexander, Newell, 20:23, and Tayte Kohn, Lemmon, 20:24.

Cheyenne-Eagle Butte legend, Jeff Turning Heart, after Billy Mills the second greatest distance runner South Dakota has yet produced, whose best time in for this distance was 14:26, drove a van down from Tiospaye Topa, bringing five participants: three competing in Boys varsity (Dennis Sands, 18th, 20:51; Stetson Cavanaugh, 22nd, 22:04, and Jason Meeter, 26th, 23:17) one in Boys JV, (Xavier Charger, 12:51) and one in Girls JV (Stace LeCompte, 6th, 27:53).

Since the big school at Eagle Butte was broken up a couple decades back, the satellite schools have struggled to produce full rosters and competitive performers for their cross country teams. Topa is determined to start from the ground up and build a program, but it is in the crude stages, and Turning Heart has volunteered to get the ball rolling.

“As of right now I am volunteering as the coach, hopefully we can work things out to be head coach, and make progress in restructuring to create a promising program for our kids.”

Last year Turning Heart took over a middle school basketball program that had spent years as a doormat to schools like Dupree and Bullhead and Timber Lake. In one season, Turning Heart turned the program around, and actually defeated Timber Lake, after previously losing to the Panthers by 40 points. He wants to apply the same strategy here with cross country. Instill a winning attitude in the kids, refine the fundamentals, and teach them to compete in tough circumstances. But this will take time.

“Last year we had small numbers and it was hard to get the kids involved because it takes a lot of work,” Turning Heart said. “We just went through stage where kids could participate as an individual, but not as a team. This year, now we have a team we can build a foundation with, to make a better program for us.”

Turning Heart has a dozen kids out, ten boys, two girls, but he struggles to keep them eligible due to academics. He had to leave his top four runners home: “Hopefully we can get our education situation fixed so we can get everybody on the right page to participate.”

“It’s hard to make somebody do a lot of hard work,” Turning Heart said, to sum up why numbers are down. “They take about a ten mile, twenty mile, a thirty mile run, it drives them away. If we build up a program for the underclassman, I think we might be able to survive the standards but most of our athletes go a different direction with different sports.”

(James Giago Davies is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota tribe. He can be reached at skindiesel@

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