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Alone, Richardson wins team state title

ROCHELLE, Texas -- One of the many cards had an Alaska postmark. The writer identified himself as a 70-year-old man.

I just want to say congratulations. You're going to be famous one day!

Bonnie Richardson doesn't mean to appear disrespectful, but she genuinely didn't understand all the attention she received a year ago. "It's not such a big deal," she said.

She knew her times in the 100- and 200-meter races at last year's Texas Class A state track meet wouldn't have meant much against the girls from the big schools. Same thing for her distances in the discus and long jump, and her height in the high jump.

But on the opening day of the two-day event at the University of Texas' Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, she finished second in the long jump, third in the discus and won the high jump. The next day, she placed second in the 100 and won the 200.

She was the only girl representing Rochelle High School. After the P.A. announcer asked the teams for Rochelle, Chilton and Seymour to report to the awards stand, Rochelle girls track coach Jym Dennis finally told her what he'd figured out only a few events before the finish.

Richardson had personally won the team championship, compiling 42 points in her five events. Chilton and Seymour tied for second at 36. That's why media types with digital recorders and TV microphones descended upon Richardson just minutes after the awards presentation. Soon after the 2½-hour drive home, radio stations from across the country were calling for interviews. Her color mug shot was printed in Sports Illustrated's "For The Record."

Her reaction wasn't exactly like she'd won the lottery. It was pretty much "Oh, OK."

"It's not like she's the fastest thing on two legs," said her father, Jack Richardson. "She didn't understand the hoopla."

From Brian in San Antonio: I'm proud of you. I appreciate your competitive spirit. Thank you for making my day.

In winning an outright team track title by herself, Richardson joins James Segrest who won the 2A title for Bangs in 1954 and Frank Pollard who won the Class B title for Meridian in 1976 as the only Texans to win a team title by themselves.

"I had a bunch of luck," Richardson said recently, shrugging and rolling her eyes.

True, she was fortunate that no Class A school qualified in all three of the meet relays, which award double the points of the individual events. A handful of schools, including Chilton and Seymour, qualified two, along with a couple of entrants in individual events. But the fact is, no other team caught her.

That Richardson won the team title was a testament to her physical talent and internal drive. Her mother, Madelynn, who teaches science at Rochelle, said Bonnie has the most self-discipline she has ever seen and referred to "scary focus." Steve Butler, Rochelle's superintendent, said she's the hardest-working person he has ever seen.

Said Jack: "Whether she's out on the track or doing school work or at home trying to play something on the piano, I learned a long time ago at meets to leave her alone. She doesn't need me to tell her between events to go relax."

Richardson can be something of a perfectionist, which makes it no surprise that she's also Rochelle's Class of '09 valedictorian.

"If her last long jump was 18 and the next one 17-10, she's furious with herself," said Jack, who manages a ranch, "even though she blew away the others."

Even for a Class A school, Rochelle is small. The high school enrollment is 59. The class that walked through graduation last Friday numbered 14. The football team plays in the six-man division.

Bonnie also plays basketball and tennis. She reached the regional semifinals this year for the first time, which seemed to excite her more than talking about track. To train for track, she and Dennis drive 10 minutes south to Brady, a 2A school with a composition track behind the school.

From Pam in Minneapolis: What a thrill to read about your accomplishments.

Richardson won the Class A long jump title as a sophomore. By qualifying last year as one of eight finalists in five events, she could have compiled as many as 50 points. The top six places score 10-8-6-4-2-1 in each of 14 individual events, double in the three relays. A couple of schools had enough qualifiers to reach the 60s.

On the opening Friday of the meet, Richardson was entered in the third, fourth and fifth events, her field events. After finishing second in the long jump, third in the discus and winning the high jump, Rochelle had 24 points and a 14-point early lead.

On Saturday, Richardson had her two sprints. In the 100, Kendra Coleman of Santa Anna won in 12.18 seconds and edged Richardson by one one-hundredth of a second to win. Still, that left Rochelle with 32 points and a six-point lead after 11 events. By the time the 200 arrived, Chilton was first with 36 points followed by Seagraves with 34 and Rochelle's 32.

Dennis wears a lot of hats at his alma mater (Class of '96). He teaches history, geography and government and coaches football, girls' basketball and girls' track (which numbered three members at the start of the season). Next year, he'll become principal and give up coaching everything except basketball.

He doesn't teach math, but -- after checking the entry sheets for which teams were left to compete after the 200 in the 1600 and the 4x400 -- he determined her win in the 200 had clinched the team title for Rochelle.

But Dennis still waited until the last event was run to say anything to her: "It was one of those things, I was pretty sure she had, but I wasn't going to tell everybody, 'Hey, she won the whole thing!' "

After her final event, Richardson was really most interested in a shower and a steak dinner on the way home. Some of her relatives had traveled five hours to Austin and hit the road soon after the 200 was run. They didn't learn she'd won the Class A title until answering their cell phones.

From Jake in Ohio: We need more young ladies like you.

The next Monday at school, Richardson had her own pep rally in the gym. The event had cheerleaders and everything.

"She's very modest," said classmate Kayla Butler, the superintendent's daughter and a good friend of Richardson's. "I don't think she wanted to have the pep rally, but I think she appreciated it."

Some people requested signed photos. "She did it … at our insistence," Jack said.

The impact and attention meant more than the fleeting moment in the media spotlight. Richardson's recruitment was previously limited to some smaller colleges in and around Texas. Overnight, NCAA Division I schools came calling. She signed last fall with Texas A&M, where she plans to study nutrition.

This year's state meet will be held this weekend and Richardson has qualified in the same five events. The competition was moved back a few weeks after Texas high school sports were shut down during the height of national concern over the potential spread of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu. Since the meet will come after school is out, more Richardson family members from across the state and more people from Rochelle -- the unincorporated population is estimated to be about 400 -- will be able to watch both days of the meet.

Winning another team title isn't really a topic of discussion. "I hope she knows that she doesn't have to do that again to satisfy me or her parents or the school, anybody," Dennis said. "We'll go down there, take one event at a time and see what happens."

Even if last year's achievement was something of a lightning strike, no one can ever take it away. The evidence includes all those congratulatory letters and cards stuffed into a big plastic box.

One small, square card has words and phrases like "Nice Going!" and "Terrific!" jammed across every inch of the front. Inside, no additional message was written.

Just the signatures of Mr. and Mrs. James Segrest.

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.