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Events like the Verde Valley Challenge Relay are usually used in an effort to raise funds but what the track and field teams from Sedona Red Rock, Camp Verde and Mingus Union high schools accomplished Saturday, April 3, was quite refreshing.

The Say Yes to Athletics event — a 64-mile trek around the Verde Valley — brought no funds, no benefits and no donations to any of the three schools or their respective programs.

The event was solely for the athletes, to see if they could do the almost impossible, and what a treat it was to stand by and watch while nearly 75 kids took their turn running a mile.

The athletes’ smiling faces beamed as they were handed the relay baton, knowing full well they were in for at least one mile of running for nothing other than a personal, feel-good moment.

For all the junk reported in the news these days with troubled teenagers, gangs, violence and crooked persons in power, it seems Say Yes to Athletics was more than just an eight-hour race to see if they could “do it” as Sedona Head Coach Harry Schneider called it.

The kids themselves took this challenge on, finding a way to work together with each other even though they compete against one another in normal meet situations, and they were successful.

Beginning at the high school football field in Sedona, senior Zach Saxman began the day at 7 a.m. with a one mile run along State Route 89A.

Many Scorpion runners took over between their hometown and Mingus in Cottonwood before the Marauders found their way across Interstate 17 in Camp Verde on State Route 260.

Marauders senior Deserata Braley, a track and field star at Mingus and the first Marauder to run after getting the handoff from a Sedona participant, said this race was a team-bonding experience.

“It was interesting because a lot of sprinters, jumpers and others ran, not just the long distance guys. It was a team-bonding thing for us and we all enjoyed it,” Braley said.

In Camp Verde, the Cowboys got a chance to wake up early and visit Head Coach Lori Showers at her home, walking in the door and being greeted by the smell of breakfast looming in the air.

“I was excited when I first heard about our team participating in something like this. We were treated to breakfast at coach’s house, then we got a chance to run and be together. It was a good experience,” senior captain for the Cowboys Jessica Raey said.

Down Middle Verde Road the Cowboys went and up a big mountain, following a dirt road big enough for a small car. The Cowboys came out the other end near Cornville Road and Beaverhead Flat Road and continued on into the Village of Oak Creek where they met up with their Scorpion pals on State Route 179.

From then on, Scorpion runners took over and made their way through construction and through busy traffic while Cmdr. Hatler of the Sedona Police Department watched their every move in her squad car.

Near the finish at the high school, several runners moved quickly behind sophomore Jorge Rivera and freshman Rachel Lillie while they crossed the finish line just before 3 p.m.

“I was expecting to run a lot more but it worked out great; everyone wanted to get in on this event. It was great to see the schools combine and do this,” Rivera said shortly after posing for pictures with fellow runners.

In the end, there were only a few on hand to watch the finish, just like there were only a few that watched it begin, but all runners from Mingus, Camp Verde and Sedona will know full well what they did Saturday, and it is a life lesson they won’t soon forget.

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