High school powerlifting coming of age at state championships

FARMINGTON − The sport of high school powerlifting gets a chance to shine on the biggest stage of the year when several local and area prep athletes will compete in the New Mexico Powerlifting Championships, beginning Friday, March 31 at Rio Rancho High School.

A dozen local and area student athletes, representing both Shiprock High School and Navajo Prep, will compete in the third annual state championships. In addition to eight boys from Shiprock and Navajo Prep, four girls from Shiprock High are also scheduled to compete for state titles.

The sport has grown in popularity since 2020 during the height of the pandemic, primarily because the sport allowed participants to compete virtually, which provided many athletes a chance to stay active while schools were shut down.

Navajo Prep's Dayton Yazzie competes in a powerlifting event Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023 at Shiprock High School.
Navajo Prep's Dayton Yazzie competes in a powerlifting event Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023 at Shiprock High School.

"When we started in 2020, kids were using whatever weights they had at home in that first year," said Shiprock coach Anthony Clah. "When the restrictions were lifted, we were able to hold more in-person meets, and the sport grew from there."

Twelve schools competed in the 2021 state powerlifting championships. That number increased to 13 schools in 2022 and has grown to more than 50 schools whose teams will compete in this year's event.

Shiprock's girls team will be led by Nalani Clah, currently ranked sixth in the state at the 165-pound division. Clah will be competing against other lifters from six different schools across the state.

In the boys' division, the Chieftains will be led by Maxim Martizano, currently ranked third in the state at the 114-pound weight class as well as Caleb Adams and Nicholas Agoodie in the 123-pound division. Jaylon Begay and Skye Silentman are also set to compete at the state championships.

The New Mexico Activities Association is scheduled to make powerlifting a sanctioned sport for the upcoming school year. Currently, it is considered a sanctioned activity while it was conducting primarily virtual events over the past couple of years. Other activities like bowling, chess, rodeo and online gaming are under consideration to be upgraded to sanctioned sports.

"Seeing the growth of the sport, considering where it came from and how it all began, really has been a lesson I've been teaching all my kids," Clah said. "When challenges confront you, those challenges can become strengths if you face them."

More:Powerlifting competition returns to Farmington this weekend

Navajo Prep's Dayton Yazzie, a three-sport athlete who also is a part of the school's baseball team this season, comes into the state powerlifting championships as the top-ranked athlete at the 275-pound weight class among Class 3A competition. Yazzie will face five other state qualifiers, from Clayton High School as well as Logan, Tularosa and Hatch Valley High Schools.

Navajo Prep head coach Erik Wesley has been impressed to see how the sport has grown in popularity, not just across the state but in particular at Navajo Prep.

"To keep physical and have a positive attitude during the pandemic, the sport really grew out of necessity," Wesley said. "We have a deep talent pool and our kids have really responded and I can tell you in our first season here, it's really taken off."

Yazzie, a senior, has appeared in six games for the Navajo Prep baseball team this season and is 5 for 9 at the plate with four runs batted in, also played on the offensive and defensive lines last season for the Eagles football team.

"(Yazzie) has been working hard and he's a humble kid and does a lot of work," said Wesley. "He's a natural athlete and a real leader around campus."

Winning a state championship for Navajo Prep is something that Yazzie hopes will send a signal to athletes that hard work and perseverance pays off.

"Putting in the extra work and trying to be the best version of myself means a lot," Yazzie said. "All that matters is putting in the work and anyone can be a champion."

For more information about the upcoming powerlifting championships, including rosters and schedules, visit the NMAA's website.

This article originally appeared on Farmington Daily Times: Navajo Prep and Shiprock High send a dozen athletes to championships