Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Flair Popetsaitke, a fifth grader at Crow Agency Elementary School, stands outside his house in Crow Agency.Flair started running in races this summer after being inspired to compete by Billy Mills, the 1964 gold medalist in the 10,000-meter run. Since then, he has qualified for two national AAU tournaments.

Crow Elementary School student qualifies for national AAU cross-country tourney

An 11-year-old Crow Agency Elementary School student with a penchant for running races and taking home medals will be traveling to Decatur, Ala. on Dec. 5 to compete at the national championships in the cross-country division of the Amateur Athletics Union. 
Flair Popetsaitke, now in fifth grade, was inspired to take up cross-country last year after hearing a speech at his school by Billy Mills, who won a gold medal in the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympics. Mills is the only person from the Western hemisphere to win the gold in this event and – as a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe – the second American Indian to win an Olympic gold medal.
Since he started running competitively this summer, Flair has become acquainted with a training regimen that includes laps around Gas Cap Hill, a prominent feature southeast of Crow Agency.
Flair qualified for the championship tournament on Halloween morning during the Hardin AAU meet, where he placed second in cross-country. Sitting with his father, Dennis, in his home kitchen, Flair said it felt “great” to qualify and he wanted to run well in the national tournament.
“We’ve been running sprints and doing times,” Dennis said. “I think we have an advantage, us being up here with the altitude. When we go to the national tournament in Alabama, it will be on a low course. By the time we get done with his training…he should have no trouble, he should just breeze right through it.” 
This isn’t Flair’s first time qualifying for a national AAU competition. He previously earned a spot at a regional track tournament in Denver during a district qualifier event on June 6 in Colstrip, Mont., placing first in his division for the 100-meter dash, 800-meter run and long jump. From there, he went to the AAU regional tournament on July 4, where he placed first in the 100-meter, first in the 800-meter and second in the long jump.
Upon qualifying for the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Norfolk, Va., however, the Popetsaitke family ran out of money.
“We didn’t have the funds available to go to the meet,” Dennis said.
To make sure Flair gets to the tournament this time around, Dennis – a local caterer – has enlisted the help of others. He’s dropped flyers at businesses in both Crow Agency and Hardin detailing Flair’s accomplishments and asking for donations. They have also sold food, and will be hosting bingo for door prizes at Crow Elementary on Thursday, Nov. 19 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.
“This is the first time I’ve done small fundraising, it’s kind of outside my comfort zone,” Dennis said, “but I stepped out of it for my child.
“We’re going to get Flair there. We hope he does very well.”
Those who wish to donate may call Flair or his parents at (406) 426-0926 or (406) 679-6733.