ROCHELLE — Bonnie Richardson continues to fascinate the national media.
Reporters from major networks, national news-gathering organizations and specialty Web sites can’t comprehend how a rural athlete from a graduating class of 14 students, with limited training resources, can continue to accomplish such rare feats.
“People can’t believe she doesn’t have a high-tech gym and equipment for training, and five or six specialized coaches that athletes in bigger schools have,” said Madelynn Richardson, Bonnie’s mother. “They can’t understand how a kid from nowhere can do this. They can’t see that it’s just a lot of hard work and drive and determination.”
Scoring 38 points last Friday and Saturday in five events, Bonnie Richardson won the Class A girls team championship by herself for the second consecutive year at the UIL state track and field meet in Austin. She again brought national and even some worldwide attention to Rochelle, a community of 600 residents located 50 miles southwest of Brownwood.
Her story traveled worldwide last year, and people still can’t get enough of how the only girl on the Rochelle High School team who trains on a caliche and dirt track carved out of the ground around the school’s football field can accomplish such extraordinary feats.
“Last year, everyone said it was a fluke,” Madelynn Richardson said. “This year, people are coming up to us and calling us, wanting to know about our caliche track. They think it’s obviously working wonders. They want to know how they can get one.”
Bonnie has never understood all the fuss over her winning state by herself. After all, she enters the same five events she enters at every other track meet. She shrugs at the fuss made over her limited training resources.
“I don’t know anything different,” she said. “It’s just how it is. I’m from a small town, and there are not a lot of other options.”
Bonnie’s 38 points at state came from winning the high jump with a leap of 5 feet, 8 inches and the long jump with a leap of 17-4.5; placing second in the discus with a throw of 126-9; finishing third in the 200 meters in a time of 25.78 seconds; and finishing fourth in the 100 in 12.51. Her 38 points edged the team from Cayuga by two points.
Last year, Bonnie’s single-handed state championship — when she scored 42 points — caught everyone off guard. Mistakes initially were reported in how many times it had happened in Texas and who the last person was to do it. Eventually, it became known that Bonnie was the first Texas female to win state by herself. It had been done eight times by a male athlete, but not since James Segrest of Bangs did it in 1954.
This year, everyone was ready. The Associated Press had a reporter poised and ready to write Bonnie’s story and send it around the nation. Dyestat.com, a national high school track and field Web site, sent a reporter from Michigan for the main purpose of seeing if Bonnie could win state again. By noon Sunday, ESPN was calling the Richardson home, although Jack Richardson politely asked The Worldwide Leader in Sports to call back after his family had finished its Sunday dinner.
Before the weekend was over, Bonnie’s story appeared on Web sites from CNN to ESPN to Fox News to CBS Sports. On Monday, CBS television called about Bonnie appearing on one of Katie Couric’s primetime specials. Good Morning America called and wanted to fly Bonnie to New York for a live interview.
“I don’t know about that,” Madelynn Richardson said of the New York trip. “We have to have Bonnie at (Texas) A&M later this week to register for fall classes.”
Predictably, Bonnie wasn’t impressed with the attention. On Monday, she went to work as usual on a neighboring ranch owned by Robin Bohls. When her mother suggested she return home promptly at 5 to start returning telephone calls, Bonnie said she first had to lift weights — something she routinely does with the Rochelle High football players.
It’s that kind of dedication and lifestyle that make Bonnie a champion, her mother said. “On the weekends, most kids her age are watching TV, talking on their cell phones or playing video games,” Madelynn Richardson said. “Bonnie goes to work on the Bohls’ ranch. She’s not a pampered princess. She’s not a pampered track star. Working out in the hot sun builds stamina and muscles, I think.”
Bonnie remains a hard-working country girl at heart, but she admits the national attention over the last year has changed her life. Thirteen months ago, Bonnie was thinking of attending college as a student only. After she won state last year, letters poured in from track and field coaches around the nation. Bonnie eventually signed with Texas A&M, presumably to be a heptathlete — the female version of a decathlete.
“Last year changed my perspective. It made me think about it (college athletics) more,” Bonnie said. “Before then, I was just a high school athlete taking what I could get. Last year made me see I could get better. Now, I want to see how good I can get.”
Thirteen months ago, her feats of winning five events in a single track meet were known only locally — or perhaps as far away as San Angelo or Abilene. This year, while competing in basketball, tennis and track, even someone as unassuming as Bonnie could see others recognized her.
“I don’t know if they were trying harder to beat me this year or not,” Bonnie said. “I don’t talk a whole lot so I don’t know what they were thinking. I wasn’t being rude. When I’m around people I don’t know, I’m real quiet.”
Bonnie did admit she felt more pressure this year after winning state last year. “It’s hard to get away from the expectations. You try to ignore them and not worry about them. But you’re still nervous. Anybody would get nervous at the state meet,” she said.
Jack Richardson said of his daughter: “She didn’t show it, but contrary to what some believe, she’s very human. We had people calling two weeks before the state meet — well-wishers and people wanting to interview her. The expectations were beyond belief. She didn’t want to let anyone down.”
Questions remain whether Bonnie’s single-handed state championships are a fluke, luck or skill. A fluke can be ruled out since it has happened twice. Skill is a certainty in this rare equation because of her unique blend of talents: from sprinting to throwing the discus to jumping.
Luck, though, also is a certainty. Even her biggest fan admits to some good fortune.
“For one athlete to win state,” Jack Richardson said, “two things have to happen: First, the one athlete has to have two great days. You can’t have one bad event. Second, the points in the other events, and especially the relays because they earn double points, have to be evenly divided or it won’t work.”
Canadian had three relays competing at state, but managed only eight points among them. Munday and Louise had two relays, but only managed eight points each. Chilton scored just 16 points with two relays. Seymour scored 32 points with two relays, but had nothing else.
Cayuga scored 20 points from winning the 800 relay, but finished seventh and out of the points in the 1600 relay. In the high jump, Bonnie out-dueled Cayuga’s Jamie Hope that ultimately made the difference. Bonnie cleared 5-8 to win while Hope settled for second at 5-7. Had Bonnie not cleared 5-8, she would have finished second to Hope because of more misses. Had Hope won, Cayuga would have finished with 38 points and Bonnie with 36.
That’s how close Bonnie came to not winning a second state championship. That’s how Bonnie’s skill and mental toughness came into play. That’s how good fortune came into play.
“If anything, I’m hoping Bonnie can be an inspiration to other kids that maybe don’t have the nicest facilities or the fanciest uniforms,” Jack Richardson said. “That if you have the will to succeed, you can do it. I hope that’s what they take away instead of it being some kind of fluke — a winning-the-lottery type situation.
“She worked hard to get what she did. Of course, no one from the outside sees that.”