Dominic Bentil, age 17, has dreads to his shoulder and stands at a solid 6’2”. Known as “Dom” among his peers, he is currently one of the top high school track athletes to ever race in the state of Utah. Oh, and by the way, he's black. And yes, that's an issue - sort of.
"I didn't like him initially, I'll be really frank with you,” Lone Peak High School track coach Derek Ellis said. “And the reason I didn't like him [was] because he was black. He was different than everyone else, and I didn't want any distractions [on the team].”
When Bentil’s mom approached Coach Ellis about training Dominic, Ellis was more than hesitant. Coach Ellis told FireFan, “I'm very selective, I don't take very many athletes ... I looked at Dom and thought, there's no way I can manage the rest of the group with him here.”
Dominic attends Lone Peak High School in the suburban town of Highland, Utah, just 25 minutes south of Salt Lake City. Although Highland is 63.3% Caucasian, Lone Peak has a very different ethnic distribution with 91.5% Caucasian students, putting Dom in the almost laughable 0.7 percentile of African-Americans in his school.
Ellis explains, “I didn't want people just wanting to be his buddy just because he's black because that's what we do around here ... I knew he didn't have an attitude but I just didn't want [my athletes] to be distracted.”
When asked if he was aware of his coach’s hesitancy because of his ethnicity Dominic replied, “Oh absolutely,” and nodded his head understandably. “It's the attitude ... I could have been a diva.” he added with a smirk.
Coach Ellis’s elite and exclusive group turned down more than 20 prospective athletes this year alone. Dominic’s mom asked Coach Ellis to “at least meet him” and he was pleasantly surprised with what he found.
“Dom is the nicest most respectful human being in the world. He has a ton of potential and he works hard ... We lift at 5 AM, we train at 7 AM and Dom's there every time ... he's a good example to everyone around him, works hard, and has a tremendous amount of character.”
Underneath the track star's skin color and racing achievements is a typical 17-year-old who loves video games, art, dancing, and being with his brothers.
When asked what defines him, Dominic replied, “Growing up I was the nerdy kid who played video games ... I've been in Shakespeare, I was a Region Champ Ballroom dancer, and to me all that stuff defines me. That's who I’ve always been. That's Dominic.”
When Dominic moved to Highland, his peers began calling him “Dom” and his identity switched from the kid who loved art and dancing to the All-State track athlete most people know him as today.
Ellis stated, “He has a lot of pressure just because he's black. You know everyone thinks he should go out and slaughter everybody.”
Coach Ellis related an experience to FireFan when he was talking to a prestigious southern college who was interested in recruiting Dom. To the surprise of Ellis, the recruiter asked, “well how black is Dominic?” Coach Ellis told the recruiter that Dom liked art, dance and Shakespeare. The recruiter then replied, "he won't fit in here no matter how fast he is, [he is] going to be black.” The recruiter shared that he was worried that the other athletes would treat him badly because of his interests and hobbies.
In a world where you are the "only black," "too black," or "not black enough," how does a 17-year-old face that kind of pressure, while trying to be himself and achieve his track goals?
Dominic was quick to say that although his situation can be challenging, he wouldn’t want it any other way, “I've always liked heat and pressure ... I don't always win, I don't always stand up to what I think I should be doing, but I always like having the hardest setting on, just to see if I can push myself physically, emotionally, mentally. I always want to step up to that next level to be the next better me I can be."
Opposing teams and athletes in Utah and around the Nation should be nervous at what Dominic and Lone Peak will do in the upcoming season. Poised to achieve their goal of six state records and a National Title, Dominic and Coach Ellis are leaving their heart and soul on the track this post-season.
“I just want to inspire, that's why I coach. And these guys inspire me. They work hard and they’re dedicated.” Ellis continued, “I think at the beginning [Dom] didn't dare to fail. Now he dares to fail. He has a challenge because he can redefine what it means to be black. It's a spectrum you know it's just like with Caucasians, some are lighter, some are special, [and] some are just weird.”
Dominic is ready to write his own story and break down race and racing walls. He stated confidently, "It's a process, it's a script that's laid out in front of me, and I know what I have to do ... It's a big long tall task but the hard work is worth it.”