ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
For Hillsboro High School teammates, coaches and fans it’s been four years of double delight.
For Trojan opponents, it’s been nothing short of a twin trauma for four years running.
Aaron and Daniel Yoder have had that kind of impact during their high school athletic careers, particularly in track and cross country.
Even as freshmen, the fraternal twins of Evan and Becky Yoder combined to average more than 20 points per track meet. During the past two years, the dynamic duo has more than doubled that output to become two of the most dominant competitors in the Mid Central Activities Association.
Along the way, they’ve helped raise the performance of their teams to a similar level.
“To have a successful team, you have to get solid points from somewhere-in any sport,” said track coach Dennis Boldt. “These are the kids who provide those points day in and day out.”
Ask the Yoders about their fondest achievements, and the brothers are quick to say that success is about team accomplishments-even in a sport where individual performance draws the most attention.
They’ve experienced plenty of both.
In cross country, the brothers have been at the nucleus of teams that have finished second three times at state. In track, they were part of a state championship team as freshmen, and a third-place finish a year ago.
In the MCAA, success has been spelled d-y-n-a-s-t-y. The Yoders have led their teams to championships four years in a row-in both cross country and track and field.
That feat is believed to be unprecedented in the history of HHS athletics and the MCAA.
Throw into the mix that they each own an individual school record-Aaron in the 1,600 meters (4:34.0) and Daniel in the 800 (1:58.2)-and have a piece of the 4×800 record with Matt Unger and Peter Richert (8:05.36).
Barring a freak injury, Daniel will leave Hillsboro High with one other unprecedented achievement: he will be the first Trojan to have qualified for state competition in three different sports all four years of his career.
Sandwiched between the cross country and track seasons, Daniel has excelled in wrestling.
“I don’t think about it much,” Daniel says of his impending achievement. “I was kind of excited about it after my freshman year because I made state in all three of my sports. Right now, though, it’s just something that’s going to happen. I don’t think about it a whole lot.”
Aaron has been a three-sport athlete as well during his four years, focusing on basketball during the winter. This year he was a key player off the bench for a Trojan team that finished third at state.
What’s been their formula for success?
It begins with genetics. Their parents have been successful runners in their own right. Aaron and Daniel discovered already in elementary school that they had the genes to run faster and farther than their classmates.
“We’d always run the mile every year in elementary school, and Aaron and I would always be the first ones who could run the whole time and not stop and walk,” Daniel said.
Aaron recalls running around their four-mile country section at the tender age of 8 or 9.
“I walked a few times, and I remember I was exhausted-but I really felt like I had accomplished something,” he said.
Add to their natural ability a running-friendly environment at home.
“My dad has probably been one of the reasons I’ve been this successful,” Daniel said. “I can remember back in junior high and summer track, he’d always be out there giving us our workout times and running with us.”
A third component of their success has been their strong work ethic. That began at home, too, according to the brothers.
“We grew up on a farm and worked hard, dawn to dusk.” Aaron said. “That’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much. I think that work ethic and determination just carries over into every aspect of your life. Running is no exception.”
Their coach would be the first to agree.
“The world’s full of people who have talent and have never really achieved,” Boldt said. “Aaron and Danny not only have talent, they work hard and have that family background. They understand what track and field is all about, they understand what it takes to train.”
The twins, along with older brother Alan, who owns all or part of three HHS track records himself, began competing in summer AAU meets in the fourth or fifth grade and haven’t stopped since.
Alan was primarily a sprinter, but Aaron and Daniel have preferred middle-distance races. Competing in similar events has been a positive thing, say the twins.
“I’ve been blessed to have a twin,” Aaron said. “You always have somebody right there with you all the time, somebody pushing you, somebody who has the same attitude pushing you. You can agree on a lot of things.
“Sometimes, when you’re that much alike, you can get into some arguments, too,” he added. “But the advantages are that you’re so close to each other that you can overcome those arguments and disputes.”
“I think it’s good for us because we can push each other,” he said. “We know that whenever we’re running together, one of us is going to get beat, of course. But if we can go 1-2 in almost every race, regardless who wins, we know we’re helping the team.”
These days, the only race in which they compete head to head is the 800 meters. Beginning in middle school, Aaron began focusing on longer races while Daniel has opted for the 400 and pole vault.
Part of that evolution has been intentional on the part of their parents and coaches in an effort to allow the twins to follow their own interests. But a lot of it has been a natural development.
“I started getting a little bigger and faster, and I thought I’d give the 400 and 800 a try-and I found out I was pretty good at it,” Daniel said.
Daniel also began experimenting with pole vault in middle school and found out he liked that, too. He’s qualified for state in that event for the past two years.
Aaron, meanwhile, has been focusing on the 1,600 primarily and has added the 3,200 to his repertoire.
“I think it’s neat that we could each do our own little section, and then meet in the 800 and push each other,” Aaron said.
The 1,600 remains Aaron’s favorite race.
“I don’t have great speed and I don’t have great endurance-I’m decent with each one,” he said. “So I think it really comes together in the (metric) mile. It calls for fairly good endurance and a good amount of speed. It’s a perfect race for me, almost.”
Their talent and work ethic have made the Yoders team leaders, Boldt said. But even in that arena, the twins are not clones of each other.
“I know they’re twins, but they’re so different,” Boldt said. “Danny is the quiet leader, but when it needs to be said, Danny will say it. Aaron is the one who will go out and just do it on the track-not that Danny doesn’t perform, too. But Danny is the verbal leader. And if Danny says something, Aaron is right beside him.”
The twins will be beside each other when they go off to college this fall. Both will run cross country and track at Fort Hays State, where older brother Alan is already enrolled.
The twins realize college will present a whole new set of challenges.
“It’s going to be a lot more competitive, a lot harder,” Daniel said. “Hopefully, we can do well in cross country and track-just be part of the team and place at conference. That’d be nice. But you can’t expect a whole lot in college. It’s a big jump.”
In the meantime, Aaron and Daniel are focused on achieving one last successful trip to the state track meet.
Both would like to cap their high school careers by winning their first gold medal at that level. But, to no one’s surprise, they are focusing on a more meaningful achievement.
“What I really want to do is just do my part to make sure we can win state as a team-or at least do as best as we possibly can at state,” Aaron said. “I think the best we can do is win state. I just want to make sure I’m pulling my weight.”
On that point, the Yoders are identical twins, indeed.