Bonnie Richardson doesn’t understand all the attention.
People she doesn’t know have congratulated her. National media organizations, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated, have called to interview her. Track and field coaches have written letters, hoping to persuade her to sign a college scholarship.
“I guess it’s a big deal. That’s what people keep telling me,” Richardson said two weeks after she accomplished something no other Texas high school female track and field athlete has. “It’s great and all, but to me, it’s just not that big a deal.”
From her perspective, the Rochelle High School junior did at state what she had done in seven previous track meets. She entered five events. If anything, Richardson didn’t do as well at state, even though the competition was the toughest she had faced all year. Prior to state, she had won 33 gold medals and two silvers. At state, she won two gold medals, two silvers and one bronze.
What caused all the fuss at state is that Richardson’s 42 points from winning the 200 meters and high jump, finishing second in the long jump and 100, and placing third in the discus were more than any Class A girls team scored. Thus, Richardson became the first female to win a University Interscholastic League team championship in track and field by herself.
Eight males have won the Texas state championship by themselves, but none since 1954.
It’s a rare feat because relay races earn double points — 20 for first, 16 for second, etc. — and most state team champions have a relay or two that win or finish in the top three, plus an individual or two that win or finish in the top three.
Richardson’s 42 points gave Rochelle its first state championship in a team sport, and were six points more than runners-up Seymour and Chilton each scored.
Richardson began to realize her unique accomplishment when the Class A meet ended May 10 at Austin, and the UIL public address announcer called for the Rochelle team and coaches to report to the awards stand.
“I thought, ‘Oh great. Oh man. What have I gotten myself into,’” said Richardson, who has always been reluctant to attracting attention.
After receiving the trophy for winning the state team championship, Richardson had no idea of the attention she was about to receive.
“At the awards area, coaches and parents and athletes came up to congratulate her,” said Jack Richardson, Bonnie Richardson’s father. “There were people from big schools and little schools. They had never heard of us, and we had never heard of them. It was an unbelievable experience.”
That was only the beginning. Austin-based Associated Press reporter Jim Vertuno was covering the state meet and wrote a separate story on Richardson’s accomplishment and how rare it was. The networking power of The AP sent the story not just around the state of Texas, but around the nation and — for those interested out there — around the world.
Sports Illustrated magazine published Richardson’s photo and listed her accomplishment in its “For the Record” segment. “A sixth-grader came to school one day last week,” Rochelle track coach Jym Dennis said, “and brought me this magazine and said, ‘Look, Bonnie’s in here.’ I said, ‘You’re kidding.’
“ESPN wanted to do a live interview via satellite, but we don’t have the capability of doing anything like that,” Dennis said. “That fell through, but they (ESPN) put it on their Web site. She’s done interviews over the phone with Fox Sports and CBS College Sports. Several magazines — most of them kids’ magazines and women’s magazines — have called for interviews. She’s been on the phone quite a bit.”
If you perform a Google search, you can find The AP’s version of Richardson’s story on Web sites for USA Today, NBC Sports/MSNBC, Yahoo and even the International Herald Tribune. You also can find at least a mention of Richardson’s championship in newspapers across the U.S., from The Washington Post to The Los Angeles Times.
A lifelong resident of this community of 600 residents located 45 miles south of Brownwood, Richardson has been an unwilling celebrity.
“She loves to win, but she doesn’t like all the attention,” Dennis said of Richardson. “She asked me why it (attention) won’t go away. I told her to enjoy it while it’s here because it will go away, and it may never come back again.”
A key reason Richardson doesn’t understand all the hype is because she realizes she was fortunate. She scored 42 points in a year when no school won more than one of the three double-point relays. Seymour and Chilton each won a relay and finished third in another relay, but neither scored in an individual event, leaving each team with 36 points.
“It was mainly luck. I’d say 90 percent luck,” Richardson said. “I scored more points than someone else on that particular day. That’s why it’s not as big a deal to me.”
She understands she could win five events and score 50 points at next year’s state meet, and without some luck, not win the team championship.
At state, Richardson won the 200 meters in 25.03 seconds and the high jump at 5 feet, 5 inches. She finished second in the 100 in 12.19 and the long jump at 18-7. She was third in the discus with a throw of 121-0.
If you placed Richardson’s performances in Class 2A, she would have finished in the top three in every event and scored 34 points, tying Childress for second in the team standings. In 3A, she would have finished in the top three in four events and scored 30 points, finishing sixth in the team standings.
Not bad for an athlete whose school doesn’t have an all-weather or even a cinder track to run on. Rochelle grades a track out of dirt and caliche around its football field each spring. Richardson also trains a couple of days a week at the all-weather track at neighboring Brady High School.
The national attention hasn’t changed Richardson. Two days after winning state by herself, Rochelle held a welcome home party in the school gym. Dennis and school superintendent Steve Butler spoke, but Richardson didn’t. Three days after winning state, Richardson was back in the weight room, staying in shape for basketball next winter.
“If you walked our hallways, you couldn’t pick her out,” Dennis said, even though Rochelle has a high school enrollment of 62 students. “It was hard to get her to take a picture with her five medals from the state meet. We had to tell her it was something she might want 10 or 20 years down the line.”
Richardson led Rochelle to the state semifinals in basketball last season, earning consensus all-state honors as a 5-foot-10 post. She also advanced to the regional tennis tournament this spring in singles competition.
Richardson and Dennis already were receiving initial contact letters from colleges, inquiring about her as a basketball player and track athlete. Since the state meet, the letters have begun pouring in from college track coaches.
“She’s gotten about 100 times more interest since the state meet,” Dennis said. “I’ve got a stack of letters on my desk now. Before state, most of them were from Division II schools. Now, there’s letter after letter from Division I schools all over the United States.”
Richardson, who is on pace academically to finish as her class valedictorian, appreciates the interest, but she wants to enjoy her senior year at Rochelle before worrying about which sport to pursue and what college to attend.
“I want to get through high school first. I want to go through my senior seasons,” she said. “Before this year, I didn’t want to do any sports in college. But now, it would be kind of hard to stop after this — to quit sports all of a sudden.”
Most college track coaches would love to train a versatile athlete like Richardson for the heptathlon, a seven-event competition including the 100 hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200, long jump, javelin and 800.
“I might be interested in that, but I’ve never done some of those events,” Richardson said. “I’ve never run hurdles, and I’ve only thrown the shot put twice. People think I’d be great at those things, but I’ve never done them before.”