Dan Cepeda/Casper-Star Tribune
Wilson Clifford, left, Alvin Spoonhunter, and Tyler Penatac of Wyoming Indian School at 2012 Wyoming state cross country championships.

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

Rodney Harwood

A runner’s success is centered on prayer and balance as much as it is being physically fit. It’s also about time-honored values of the Medicine Wheel, and a warrior society of brotherhood. But somewhere along the journey to success, Chico Her Many Horses, head coach of the Wyoming Indian High School’s cross country team, allows his guys to enjoy the journey.

And whatever the Oglala Lakota elder is doing on the Wind River reservation in Central Wyoming, it’s been working. Over the past decade, the boys’ cross country teams have won eight consecutive Wyoming 2A state championships, and are almost perfect, winning 11 of 12 titles.

“We’ve just got some kids that flat believe in themselves, and believe in our system,” Her Many Horses told ICTMN. “Today’s society tends to demand so much, so we work on the mental aspect more than we do on the physical aspect, and it’s really worked for us. In the summertime, I tell my kids to go be kids. Ride horseback, go fishing, play basketball, go to pow wows and dance, but come back ready to work.”  

The Wind River is a Shoshone/Arapaho reservation in Ethete, Wyoming, but the Indian School is a mixture of many nations, and the team has been a blend of several cultures: Arapaho, Crow, Pawnee, Lakota, Seneca and Shoshone. “We’re one of the smallest schools in the state. We run a lot of regional meets in other states, but we take a lot of pride in knocking off the bigger schools,” said Her Many Horses, whose program just won its 20th overall state championship in 2014. “We want to win them all, but we train to win that last meet of the season.”

His runners’ success on the track has also helped them find success in college.

Chico’s son, Keegan Her Many Horses, recently signed a national letter of intent to go to Black Hills State University in Spearfish, S.D. “I look at [distance running] as part of my heritage,” said Her Many Horses, who wrapped up his senior season this year with an individual cross country title. “Growing up at the Indian School, it’s always been known as a basketball school. But we’re making it a cross country school. We always have good runners, and I think its part of the culture.”

Caleb Her Many Horses, Keegan’s older brother, won three individual championships (2007-09) and earned a scholarship to the University of Wyoming said, “I really feel like I was blessed to be a part of something special,” Caleb said. “We showed the next generation what hard work and determination could do.”

Runners Caleb and Slade Spoonhunter laid the groundwork for the first three championships in the team’s winning-streak. In 2008, they held off Little Snake River by just three points to repeat, placing all four scoring runners in the top 10. “I remember 2008. We knew that Little Snake River would be coming after us,” Caleb said. “We wanted to keep the streak going, so we focused on building up our sixth and seventh runners to help make them strong when we needed them to step up. I remember sitting they’re counting. Did we beat their 3-4-5?” Two sophomores – Keller Duran and Marlin Medicine Horse – turned out to be the heroes of the season, finishing seventh and ninth, respectively.

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Caleb and Spoonhunter saved their best for last, finishing 1-2 to lead the Chiefs to an almost perfect team score of 12 points at the 2009 state championship. “That 2009 team was probably the best team I’ve ever been a part of,” Caleb said. “Marlin was right there with Slade and me most of the year, and we had a couple of freshmen step up to the plate and deliver.”

Wilson Clifford took his turn in Wyoming Indian School history, winning individual titles in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The 2012 team produced another 1-2-3 finish with Clifford, Tyler Penatac and Alvin Spoonhunter. In fact, between Caleb, Wilson Clifford and Keegan, the Chiefs have produced 7 of the last 8 individual state winners.

It’s game-on next season in the High Plains, and the success doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.

Photo from Casper Star-Tribune.

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