Starting Thursday, 14 student athletes from Edmonds-Woodway High School will be among those competing at the WIAA State Track and Field championships. Among them is Niko Palelei, who qualified for the state meet in shot put during his first-ever full track season.
This is Palelei’s first year at Edmonds-Woodway. As a student in foster care, he moved multiple times during high school. Palelei attended Moses Lake High School for his freshman year, and Marysville-Getchell high school for his sophomore and junior years.
During his first two years of high school, the COVID-19 pandemic postponed many extracurricular activities until late into his sophomore year. It was at the last minute that he found track and field.
“I mainly just did it because COVID kind of cut off most of the other sports that year,” Palelei said. “Track was the last of the year and it was the first to open. It was a short season, but I had fun. So I was wanting do it again junior year but I wound up transferring schools so I wasn’t able to. So this year was basically my first full season.”
Palelei had played football for Marysville-Getchell High School, but decided he liked track better for the individual component. “I definitely prefer track. It’s kind of more of a friendly environment. It’s competitive, but less toxic.” he said. “It’s a different mindset.”
Palelei’s events are discus and shot put. Both are throwing events, one with a disc and one with a 12 lb. metal ball. For shot put, which Palelei is going to state for, athletes must throw the ball from their neck. “It’s strength and technique,” Palelei said. He qualified for state by placing fifth in the 3A NW District 1 track meet on Wednesday, May 17. At that meet, he “put” the ball over 45 feet.
Palelei’s coach, Brent McAtee, said that because Palelei joined the team his senior year with only a partial season under his belt, he had to work hard to rapidly develop his skills.
“Niko has arrived at this point through his hard work and dedication and a strong belief in himself and his abilities,” McAtee said. “I believe that Niko’s teammates also contributed to his success. We have built a culture of working with each other and cheering for each other that provides a fun and encouraging atmosphere for each athlete to perform at their best.”
Palelei noted that he has made many friends through track and field this year. “I’ve definitely met a lot more people than I otherwise would have if I had just been in school,” he said.
Zach Mangum, who has been Palelei’s foster parent since June 2022, said he has watched Palelei’s confidence grow while participating in track and field. “I think it’s certainly has helped him define his place,” Mangum said. “This kind of individual sport where he can excel and have that good mentoring from his coaches and that cheering from his teammates, I think it’s done really well for him. It’s something for him to be proud of, something he talks about.”
Mangum and his wife Terra Mangum have had over 30 foster placements in their seven years as a foster family. “We’ve had from newborn up to young adulthood, but I would say the majority have been teenagers,” he said. “We’ve had three others that have graduated from Edmonds-Woodway.”
Mangum, who works as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, noted that many youth in foster care have faced significant challenges and trauma. Additionally, youth in foster care are 35% less likely to graduate high school in four years, according to the Washington State Department of Youth, Children and Families,
Palelei, though, is on track to graduate from Edmonds-Woodway next month. He plans to attend Edmonds College in the fall, and will remain with the Mangum family and their two young biological children until he moves into the dorms there.
Palelei said competing in track and field has been a highlight of his high school experience. “For this year it’s been a really nice improvement, it gives me something to do,” he said.
The WIAA 3A State Track and Field Championship runs Thursday-Saturday, May 25-27, at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma.
— By Mardy Harding