Two separate events recently showed once again how incredibly impressive our young women in American can be-one an instance of pure sportsmanship at its best, and the other an instance of pure desire, determination and substance.
The first event happened at the Washington Class 4A State Girls Track & Field Championship Meet at Pasco, and the running of the 3,200-meter race with Nicole Cochran, Bellarmine Prep’s outstanding middle distance runner.
Cochran won the event in 10:36, beating Shadle Park’s Andrea Nelson by 3 seconds. Thirty minutes later, race officials disqualified Cochran, ruling that the Harvard-bound runner ran 3 consecutive steps inside the lane adjacent to hers. Bellarmine Prep Coach Matt Ellis appealed the infraction, but his appeal was denied.
The infraction happened on the first day of the meet, and Cochran was visibly upset because she knew she did not commit the infraction. In addition, Cochran was the defending state champion, having won both the 1,600 and 3,200 titles as a junior.
She never seemed herself after the crushing news, and the pure injustice of it all. On the second day of competition, Cochran led the 1,600 and was gunned down in the final lap when Oak Harbor’s Mietra Smollack out-kicked her on the final turn to win in 4:56.44. Cochran finished 4th.
Later in the afternoon, Cochran ran the 800 meters and finished dead last in 2:24.40. “I just didn’t hang with them, and kind of gave up after 450 meters,” said a dejected Cochran.
Despite losing Cochran’s points, her teammates were rightfully incensed and rose to the occasion by winning the team title with 76.5 points to second-place Gig Harbor’s 65.
“I gave a lot of effort in the 3,200,” said Cochran, “and then there was the emotional toll afterward, sitting here for a whole hour while they got the 3,200 figured out, which was unfortunate because I know I wasn’t in the wrong and I got penalized for it.”
In a show of pure sportsmanship, when the official 3,200 race winner Andrea Nelson was awarded her first place metal at the podium, she moments later gave her first place medal to Cochran. Redmond’s Sarah Lord followed by giving Nelson her second-place medal, and the other medal winners followed suit.
“It gave me the chills,” Cochran said. “It shows how much respect distance runners have for each other.”
And now the story after the story: Ten days after that eventful afternoon, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association reinstated Cochran as the rightful winner, reversing a rules infraction charge made by race officials.
Mike Colbrese, executive director of the WIAA, reviewed video of the race that showed it was Cochran’s teammate who ran out of the lane, and that the officials’ report also incorrectly identified the lap in question as Lap 7 when the infraction actually occurred on Lap 6. So much for that bungled officiating effort.
The officials were dead wrong on race day, but they also were absolutely sure they were right and also in charge on race day. The cat will mew and the dog will have its day (from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, Act 5, Scene 1, meaning “any given person’s moment of glory is inevitable), or, as I like to say: “right will out”.
The second event happened at the Texas 1A Girls State Track & Field Championship Meet in Austin, where Rochelle High School won the team title. So what is so unusual, you ask? Just this: Rochelle qualified exactly one athlete for the state meet, and she won the state title for her team by herself.
Meet Bonnie Richardson, a study in desire, determination and substance like no other girl track and field athlete in Texas high school history.
Richardson, whose middle name just might be talent, spent Friday winning the high jump at 5 foot 5 inches, placed 2nd in the long jump at 18-7, and third in the discus at 121-0.
On Saturday, Richardson ambled over to the track in the sweltering high-90-degree Texas heat and promptly won the 200-meter dash in 25.03 and followed up the effort by nearly pulling off a huge upset in the 100 before finishing 2nd in 12.19 to defending champion Kendra Coleman of Santa Ana.
“Kendra and I have been battling all year,” said Richardson. “I was amazed I stayed with her. I didn’t think I was that fast.” Yes, Bonnie Richardson, you ARE apparently THAT fast.
So did Richardson steal the show in Texas? Nah, she just earned her team the state title by herself. University Interscholastic League officials could not remember a girl ever winning a state team title by herself.
It did happen before in the state boys championship meet when former Balyor Bear and Pittsburgh Steeler Frank Pollard did it for Meridian Highs School in the 1970s, said UIL Athletics Director Charles Breithaupt.
Many outstanding girl athletes have dominated state meets, but few ever cross over from the sprints to the field events with Richardson’s success, said Beithaupt. “The way she did it is really impressive.” That is, of course, what everyone thought who was there to see it happen.
And the kicker? It turns out that Rochelle High School does not even have a track to practice on. When Richardson was asked how does she train, she jokingly replied, “Watch out for potholes,” adding, “We have a track about 10 miles down the road and train there usually.”
Richardson’s coach, Jym Dennis, suspected she could do something special at the state meet, but wisely stayed quiet, not wanting to put any pressure on his prize athlete.
Last year, Richardson won the state long jump title, but did not medal in the high jump and discus.
And the additional great fortune for Rochelle High School? Bonnie Richardson is a junior.
Richardson also competes on Rochelle’s tennis team, and led Rochelle’s basketball team to the state semifinals last season.
“I’d play football if my parents would let me,” said Richarson, adding “Not quarterback. Defense.” Sounds like my kind of girl-spunky, competitive and willing to settle all issues on the field of battle.
Lou Holtz, one of college football’s legendary coaches, was famous for many quotes, including this one: “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” Somehow, I think Lou Holtz would have been a tremendous admirer of Bonnie Richardson, and her extraordinary effort on that hot Texas afternoon when she single-handedly delivered a state title to Rochelle High School.
And there you have it: Nicole Cochran, every girl on the medal stand for the 3,200-meter ceremony, Cochran’s teammates, and Bonnie Richardson, all ordinary young women who did extraordinary things because they could and would.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley