While most high schools present the top runners with pre-ordered medals and plaques at the end of a meet, the head coach of Pusch Ridge Christian Academy’s cross-country team takes a different and more unique approach.
“We make round, clay medallions - paint them and put letters and words that define the event,” said Elmer Yazzie, the head coach. “Art has always been a visual form of communicating for me. It’s being able to say something without writing an essay and it is a form of language that I know best.”
Yazzie is in his ninth year of teaching art at the school and just finished his seventh season as the cross-country head coach. Running has always been a part of Yazzie’s life and something that he has seen as more than just a sports activity. For him, running always served as a direct connection to prayer. While that is not the case for everyone, Yazzie said that running is a valuable tool for teaching life lessons - something that everyone can benefit from.
“I just see so much about life in connection to distance running. I love it because once the runners leave and start racing they are most of the time by themselves,” said Yazzie. “It takes a ton of individual tenacity and is a great teacher for life because the individual has a lot of growing and maturing to do as they run away from people.”
This year, Yazzie decided to include his passion for art by making handmade, painted awards for the cross-country runners. Yazzie, with the help of his art students, made clay medallions that were given to the top-15 finishers of each race and clay plaques that were given to the top team finishers - this only occurred at a few meets. The hand-made awards had nothing but positive responses from the opposing teams.
“It’s something different but has been good,” said Yazzie. “It’s good for the students because they are doing something that is not benefiting them directly so it’s an opportunity for them to give their talent to the community and receive nothing in return.”
Yazzie plans on making the handmade awards during the track season with the hope of blessing other teams as well as continuing to teach his art students what it means to selflessly give to others.