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JUNIOR ACHIEVERS

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Four adopted brothers from Ethiopia are leaving their mark on the athletic fields

By Michael Hicks

It’s a Sunday morning in the Cunningham household. Eggs are cooking on the stove — 48 of them — to feed the family of 12. Chips are rarely found on the grocery bill, which runs upwards of $500 per week, and it’s not uncommon for Wiley Cunningham, the father of the household, to buy fruit twice a week and cook 5 pounds of meat on a given night.
Cunningham and his fiancée, Dixie Newcomb, have 15 children between the two of them. Ten, ranging in age from 7 to 17, still live in the six-bedroom Columbine-area home. Of those, Cunningham adopted seven with his ex-wife when they lived in Oklahoma.
“I had some older children. I had two younger children. We adopted one from Guatemala. Then a social worker talked us into looking at this group of kids. There were five at the time in an orphanage; one was not. Right before we went over, they said six were excited to see you,” Cunningham said.
Those six were brothers and sisters from Ethiopia. They came to the United States in 2008 and moved with the family to Colorado in 2009. Their English wasn’t all that good; they knew maybe 13 words. For months, they were taking English as a Second Language courses.
Language is still a barrier, though not as much. But athletically they have proven to be the equal, if not better, than their counterparts. Four brothers — Darius, 15, Gelle, 14, Tamrat, 13, and Asher, 12 — are quite the athletes. Their athletic prowess, be it on the track, on the basketball court or on the football field, has coaches salivating, waiting for their next move.
Back in their native Ethiopia, soccer was their sport. But once Cunningham brought the kids to the U.S., he exposed them to as many sports as possible so they could find their niches.
“I wanted them to see what they won’t like and what they want to do,” he said. “Once you get to high school, you’ve got to want to go after it. You have to like it.”
Success at the Junior Olympics can boost a love of sport. Three of the four — Darius, Asher and Tamrat — won gold at the state championships last month. Darius won the 400 meters in a blistering 53.21 seconds in the 15-16 age division; Tamrat took first in the javelin throw at 114 feet, 11 inches in the 13-14 group; and Asher won the 100 (12.9), 200 (26.71) and 400 (59.44) in the 11-12 age division. Gelle was a top-10 finisher in the 100, 200 and 400.
They’re not just competitive on the track, but also with one another. Asher makes no bones about the fact that he owns bragging rights over his brothers when it comes to his three Junior Olympic titles. He also acknowledges that running the 400 first was a good tune-up for what was to come.
“As soon as you do the 400, you get pretty much warmed up for the others,” Asher said of the 100 and 200.
Tamrat didn’t have such a warm-up when he won the javelin throw. He had thrown it only once prior to the state meet, but that didn’t seem to faze him.
“He didn’t even have the steps down,” Newcomb said of Tamrat.
Outside of athletics, Darius is ready for the next step in his life — high school. He’ll be a freshman at Columbine this fall.
“I’m mostly excited about track and football. I’m excited about going to high school,” he said.
But maybe not as much as the coaches will be to have him in the program. Columbine has a lot to look forward to over the next four years. One by one, the adopted Cunningham brothers will step foot onto the Columbine campus, and with them comes an athletic pedigree that is proving to be second to none.
“It’s a lot of fun. I love to do sports. It’s my favorite thing in the whole world,” Gelle said.

Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.