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September 26, 2009 1:18 PM   Subscribe

At age 17, Bonnie Richardson won the Texas state track team championship all by herself. Then she did it again.
posted by MegoSteve (63 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's a summary of her achievements in these competitions.
posted by Science! at 1:27 PM on September 26, 2009


It is cruel to publish the poetry of teenagers, but perhaps the journalist felt he needed a counterpoint to make his own stilted prose read better. I mean, yowza.
posted by Bookhouse at 1:31 PM on September 26, 2009


Here is the single-page print version of the article.
posted by netbros at 1:36 PM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


A YEAR PASSES. A teenage girl climbs into her coach's white Chevy Malibu. The heat. The cicadas. The cattle. The buzzards.

The anvil.

The one that fell on her as they were driving home from last year's state meet: Oh, my God. Next year. Again.
What is it about sports writers that make them feel like they need lard up their writing with prose poetry and all kinds of nonsense, like they're competing timbersports competition where in staid of trees they're chopping through literary cliches.

Also here is a (very large) picture of Bonnie Richardson, and here is a smaller one, if you're wondering what she looks like.
posted by delmoi at 1:37 PM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


I tried to read this. On a computer. A black one. Black as night. With an apple on the front. A white one. White as a narhwal's horn. But I stopped reading. Stopped after the first paragraph. It made my brain hurt. Bad. So I got a sandwich. Tuna. Now I'm going to AskMe.
posted by turducken at 1:37 PM on September 26, 2009 [68 favorites]


er, instead of trees
posted by delmoi at 1:38 PM on September 26, 2009


What is it about sports writers that make them feel like they need lard up their writing with prose poetry and all kinds of nonsense

The best explanation I've heard for this tendency in sports writing is that sports contests are by their nature fairly stereotyped affairs -- rule-bound, predictable and hence similar in the narrative opportunities they offer from year to year (save for the changing names and faces of the winners and losers). Stylized prose helps to combat the overwhelming sense of sameness that might otherwise afflict the straightforward presentation of sports news.
posted by killdevil at 1:59 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


She would make a hell of a pentathalete or decathalete.
posted by zippy at 2:01 PM on September 26, 2009


She reminds me a lot of my daughter.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 2:02 PM on September 26, 2009


The best explanation I've heard for this tendency in sports writing is that sports contests are by their nature fairly stereotyped affairs -- rule-bound, predictable and hence similar in the narrative opportunities they offer from year to year (save for the changing names and faces of the winners and losers)

I don't know about all that. Sporting events are pretty full of human drama. I think it might be less that, and more the fact that the articles are written by people who chose to be sportswriters. And that low standards are contagious. Certainly there have been sportswriters who were great writers, but has anyone ever gotten fired from the sports page for lack of writing ability? Ever?
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:04 PM on September 26, 2009


Also an anvil fell on her?? I guess the Coyote didn't appreciate being beaten in the 400.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:05 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Say what you wish - this writer couldn't ruin an awesome story. Awesome.
posted by zach4000 at 2:12 PM on September 26, 2009


Say what you wish - this writer couldn't ruin an awesome story.

Well I got as far as the cicadas before hitting the back button so I beg to differ.
posted by biffa at 2:19 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]



For those who became hung up on the 'writing' and wouldn't finish, she seems a spectacular person.
posted by notreally at 2:24 PM on September 26, 2009


Not a fan of the article.

I hesitate to list any reasons why until I go back and read my papers from last year's feature writing class to see how guilty I'll be of hypocrisy.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 2:31 PM on September 26, 2009


They should let her run the relay.
posted by rokusan at 2:43 PM on September 26, 2009


Are all Sports Illustrated articles like this, focusing on what the person looks like, the jeers of the crowd about the person's appearance, the disappointment of the person's family over the person's gender?

Street view of Rochelle, Texas tells me that there's not much to compete for her attention and time. With this and graduating as Valedictorian, hopefully she'll have her pick of universities.
posted by Houstonian at 2:44 PM on September 26, 2009


hopefully she'll have her pick of universities.

According to Wikipedia she's going to Texas A&M on a full scholarship.
posted by kenko at 2:45 PM on September 26, 2009


In college, I entered an intramural track and field contest with my friend. He was a sprinter, I was a distance runner. We came so close to taking first and beating the AFROTC team.

Winning an entire meet, at the state level, singlehandedly is awesome.

It's not just that she's great at each event, it's that she has the stamina to go from one event to the next and still place. I don't know the order they run things at her meet, but doing a long-jump after a 100m after discus would be incredibly difficult. Your body has no down time, you're exhausted, and you have to walk to each event, stretch, and go.
posted by zippy at 2:48 PM on September 26, 2009


Driven people are really interesting to me, particularly when there seems to be an identity-achievement connection. I'm particularly curious about what happens next for Richardson, because as the article touches on, once you do something extraordinary, you face the problem of whether it settles or satisfies something for you, or if it creates a need to sustain it.

The overwrought writing is unfortunate in particular because it makes me wonder if that narrative is really part of Richardson or if it's manufactured or just played up, but the actual bio behind the rhetorical flourishes is pretty interesting.
posted by weston at 2:52 PM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


If the writing made you give up in spite of interest in the story, I think maybe you've got something of an imaginative deficit. I haven't read anything else this guy's written - I in fact didn't even look at the article author's name - but in the worst case, I'd say his prose is ideally suited to the emotional experience of high school, especially the sort of high school experience Bonnie probably had.

In other words: get over yourselves, for christ's sake. It's a good story and she sounds like an extraordinary girl. When you get to the point where you're ruining your own fun because it's just not cool enough, you're doing it wrong.
posted by kavasa at 3:01 PM on September 26, 2009 [7 favorites]


It is eerie how similar my life could have been to hers if I hadn't moved out of that tiny 1A Texas school in the ninth grade. I have always been thankful for that because it made me focus my energy on something besides sports and horses; namely, music.

It seems like where we differ, though, is that this girl is meant to be an athlete. If that hunch is just a byproduct of the inflated writing of the article, I really feel for her when she hits her late 20s and realizes that she's missed out because she's devoted her youth to something that she can't continue to do.
posted by nosila at 3:21 PM on September 26, 2009


That's an amazing story. My track team senior year had about 55 kids on it and I don't think any of us placed at States, for her to win the entire thing? That's just incredible.
posted by lilkeith07 at 3:22 PM on September 26, 2009


If the writing made you give up in spite of interest in the story, I think maybe you've got something of an imaginative deficit.

I doubt it.

(also, I think you mean 'imagination deficit')
posted by delmoi at 3:33 PM on September 26, 2009


It's a great story. My problem is that the writing presumes to do the imagining for me.
posted by casarkos at 4:08 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


When you get to the point where you're ruining your own fun because it's just not cool enough, you're doing it wrong.

It's not that it's not cool. It's that sentences like this one -- The heat lies on the land like the heel of a fat man's hand. -- well, they hurt me.

That's from the lead graf! If that's the best the writer's got, I don't have a lot of hope for THIRTEEN MORE PAGES of it.
posted by sugarfish at 5:04 PM on September 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jesus Christ. Amazing.

For those of you who couldn't stand to read past the third graf:

SHE CAN'T practice the long jump at her school. The sand is packed too hard in the pit, and the runway's decayed rubber surface slopes too much at the launch point. She knows little of technique. Her left foot often drags and steals a half foot from her jump....Bonnie's the defending 1A state long jump champion....She makes five more attempts, none better than that initial 18'7", and finishes second by a quarter of an inch. She glowers on the award stand as she receives the silver medal: second-best Class 1A long jumper in America's second-most populous state.

No one, till a month ago, taught her the correct technique for throwing the discus...She places third.

Her school has no high jump pads; she's doing this on guts and will and focus and virtually no practice...She clears 5'5"....Now it's down to just Bonnie and tall, lithe Jamie Hope of Cayuga High...Neither girl makes 5'6". Bonnie, with fewer misses overall, wins the gold and 10 more points.

Unreal.

Now's when some folks, during her regular-season meets in little towns that pock the Texas rangeland, call out, "You think you're so good! Why don't you stop showing off?" Or, "Are you sure she's a girl? She doesn't look like a girl."...Monster, one opponent called her. Sasquatch, fans hollered. Bigfoot. It. "They're putting a man out there!" some people howled. "Can we get a cup check on that one?"

You run, Bonnie. You run the fuck out of those small towns, outrun those small people who want to make you small so they feel big. Run and don't look back.
posted by rtha at 5:08 PM on September 26, 2009 [18 favorites]


...picture of Bonnie Richardson, and here is a smaller one, if you're wondering what she looks like.

Yes, I was wondering. Thanks, Delmoi.

Is it too much to ask that a Sports Illustrated article have illustrations?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:04 PM on September 26, 2009


You run, Bonnie. You run the fuck out of those small towns, outrun those small people who want to make you small so they feel big. Run and don't look back.

Couldn't agree more. And the photos Delmoi dug up show an attractive young women, so fuck the haters. Anyone who would yell something like "can we get a cup check on that one" at a teenage girl should be stomped into a pulp. And I'm not a very violent person.
posted by maxwelton at 6:08 PM on September 26, 2009


Reminds me a bit of a kid in the 1980's named Ray Harvey from the very small town of Ouray CO who was considered the fastest runner in the state then. He won the state X-country championship twice [in Division 2A] and still holds the 3200 meter record for Division 2A in the state at 9:36:88.
When he won his second X-country championship [by a lot] he ran with a stick of grass in his mouth the entire way.
posted by Rashomon at 7:37 PM on September 26, 2009


You run, Bonnie. You run the fuck out of those small towns, outrun those small people who want to make you small so they feel big. Run and don't look back.

It's not like that is unheard of. I didn't read the article for the reasons discussed above, so I don't know if or how sex determination is really done at that level.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:55 PM on September 26, 2009


You're a sensitive guy, meat robot. Way to keep us all grounded and focused on what's really important.
posted by patrick rhett at 8:08 PM on September 26, 2009


It's also not unheard of - in fact, I'd say it's far more common - for a young, athletically gifted woman to be accused to being a guy because people can't believe that a girl can be that good, that determined, that disciplined. For fuck's sake, they're not calling for a "cup check" because they actually think she's a guy. I'd bet she's been called dyke and lesbo more than once, too.

And since you didn't want to upset your delicate sensibilities by reading the article, you missed the parts about her family, her siblings, her upbringing, and other things that would have informed your view of her and probably made it impossible for you to have made the comment you made. But where's the fun in that.

I just spend some time looking at the google street view (!!!) of Rochelle, TX. It's...wow. Small. Flat. Empty. I'd run like hell too, if I were her.
posted by rtha at 8:18 PM on September 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, what rtha said, many times over. Also, I think it's possible to enjoy a story despite terrible writing, but then I've read a lot of really badly written sci-fi, so I may have developed mental calluses that keep it from hurting.

And this was an awesome story.
posted by patrick rhett at 8:19 PM on September 26, 2009


Is it too much to ask that a Sports Illustrated article have illustrations?

I read the article in the magazine, and there are several photos, although they are somewhat small.

One photo, though, is a devastatingly awesome shot of her in her bow-hunting gear. Be still my heart.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:21 PM on September 26, 2009


If the writing made you give up in spite of interest in the story, I think maybe you've got something of an imaginative deficit.

When someone's writing makes me give up reading in spite of my interest in the story, I think maybe the fault lies not with me but with the writer. I'm a fan of narrative journalism; it's my preferred style, both to read and to write. But this was not fun to read.

It wasn't even so much the overwrought writing. It was the sentences. So many. As parodied here. Maybe he's trying to be dramatic. But he doesn't let the situation speak for itself. He hammers me over the head with it.

Someone introduce this guy to the comma or semicolon. It would read so much better!
Nothing stops the eye, nothing bends the road. It's a blank slate, this land; anything might be scrawled on it.
That, IMHO, reads much better. There's more flow and fewer abrupt sentences.

When you get to the point where you're ruining your own fun because it's just not cool enough, you're doing it wrong.

What? Not cool enough? The lead is supposed to hook people, to convince them "you should read this whole article, it's worth it."

The lead was not very good. I was not hooked. It did not pique my interest. It convinced me to not read the rest under the assumption that the entire article was going to be like that.

It's got nothing to do with cool, or even to do with de rigueur MeFi snark. I was just being honest.

And thank you, rtha, for posting those bits. I think I'll skip down a bit and give it a chance. Maybe as soon as he got into the flow of writing the piece, he forgot to try and be profound and just wrote.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:40 PM on September 26, 2009


Maybe it's because I've been an editor for so long, but I'm sort of inured to artless (or even terrible) writing if I don't have to deal with it as part of my work. If I find something compelling in the story (and that's a very subjective thing), I can overlook a lot. Or I can rewrite it in my head as I'm reading. That's definitely useful.

Everyone's going to have a different standard for how bad the writing has to be before it becomes unreadable.
posted by rtha at 8:57 PM on September 26, 2009


I haven't read anything else this guy's written - I in fact didn't even look at the article author's name - but in the worst case, I'd say his prose is ideally suited to the emotional experience of high school, especially the sort of high school experience Bonnie probably had.

Just as an FYI, the author of this piece, Gary Smith, is widely considered to be just about the best sportswriter going.

Yeesh... this one was a little bit overwrought, though. Not his best effort.
posted by Arch_Stanton at 9:51 PM on September 26, 2009


Really the problem is that the writing is so bad it made me doubt the veracity of his reporting. He projects such an inflated sense of drama that I think the small-town drama he's describing could equally be his projection. It's a shame because the facts are so compelling -- why couldn't he just begin by describing in simple terms what she did? Because that's the only reason I clicked through to the article. Her feat is much bigger than his panting authorial narcissism.
posted by creasy boy at 10:41 PM on September 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


That Wikipedia article makes it clear what actually happened. She placed in the long jump, high jump and discuss, and then the next day placed in 100 and 200.
posted by creasy boy at 10:53 PM on September 26, 2009


Bonnie clearly rocks. So the writing wasn't stellar--worth getting over. Go team!!
posted by Go Banana at 12:41 AM on September 27, 2009


The writing's about as cliched and tiresome as delmoI spewing negativity in threads about journalism and journalists.
posted by ambient2 at 12:45 AM on September 27, 2009


Just as an FYI, the author of this piece, Gary Smith, is widely considered to be just about the best sportswriter going.

Bless his heart.
posted by atrazine at 2:45 AM on September 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


Time to whirl and explode, unleashing all the power she's been building in that dungeon of a weight room, that cramped, dank socket that was left when the stage was torn out at one end of the basketball gym built by a Works Project Administration crew back in '38.

Amazingly, this is not the world's first use of the term dank socket but I'm still hoping it doesn't become a thing.
posted by vanar sena at 3:24 AM on September 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is stunning that one young woman from a pothole of a town did this in a state as populace as Texas. This is a phenomenal story about a world class athlete in the making. Unfortunately the SI story portrayed this girl's success as though it were a dark tale about a physical freak. The tortured prose not withstanding, I am drawn to her real life story and hope she finds the opportunities she wants at Texas A&M. I'd love some day to see her name in an article about the Olympics or an NCAA championship.
posted by birdwatcher at 4:00 AM on September 27, 2009


Smith has received many awards and honors for his work at Sports Illustrated. He won the National Magazine Award for non-fiction, the magazine equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, a record four times and was a finalist for the award a record ten times. His stories have appeared in The Best American Sports Writing series a record eight times. Some of his literary peers have called him "the best magazine writer in America" and "America's best sportswriter". He also has been cited as a role model by younger sportswriters. *
Something is very wrong with modern sports writing in the USA. Or is it simply the pernicious influence of Sport Illustrated? This is the second link I've seen recently on Mefi to atrocious writing in Sports Illustrated. (The first one, also by a "renowned" SI feature writer.)

And yes, it is entirely reasonable to criticise the writing style separately from the story. Any time a writer leaves the narrow path of strict reportage and engages in a style of writing they are open to criticism. This fellow effectively buries the story under his overripe prose.

* From the wikipedia article on Gary Smith.
posted by Sitegeist at 5:21 AM on September 27, 2009


You guys, the story in the article is interesting enough that if you can draw the strength to ignore the words, it's worth it. Seriously, can none of you skim?
posted by Deathalicious at 7:44 AM on September 27, 2009


This is just awesome. Wow.
posted by caddis at 8:12 AM on September 27, 2009


The writing makes it hard to skim. I was reading carefully and I was still confused about the details of that horrible anvil accident. Also, did I read correctly that after homeschooling the kids through middle school, the mom went out and got her teaching certificate in time so she could teach the kids (chemistry and physics?) as a teacher in the local high school? And the father is similataneously the ranch manager for three large spreads and they have an 80 farm of their own? Sounds like a whole family of overachievers.
posted by 445supermag at 8:12 AM on September 27, 2009


I think it's an amazing story - a girl who doesn't have many resources, but pushes herself to do her best; not just win, but better herself each time she competes. Amazing!
posted by garnetgirl at 9:33 AM on September 27, 2009


I n'th the whole don't care about the writing, what an amazingly driven person Bonnie Richardson is. I've never been one to think of athletes as role models, but damn. She's proved me wrong.

I can't help but think that she's got the potential not just for athletic success, but professional as well. Somebody with that much visible drive will be given the opportunity to soar at some pretty high levels.
posted by effugas at 9:56 AM on September 27, 2009


I don't know anything about US high school athletic divisions. What does "Class A" mean, as opposed to "2A"? Was she competing against the best at her age level?
posted by CaseyB at 11:40 AM on September 27, 2009


I don't know anything about US high school athletic divisions. What does "Class A" mean, as opposed to "2A"?

I don't know much either, but the second page of the story says "THE CONTESTANTS in the 2008 Class 1A state championship long jump line up for introductions. They're the eight best female leapers in the 380 Texas high schools with enrollments of fewer than 200" and "who'd gone to school with the same six boys for so many years that she'd decided to defer romance till college"

So my interpretation is that she is competing in the league for high schools with fewer than 200 kids total at the school; and that her year at her high school had 6 boys in total.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:12 PM on September 27, 2009


I don't know anything about US high school athletic divisions. What does "Class A" mean, as opposed to "2A"?

Texas high schools are organized into divisions by student population. This is common among U.S. states, especially large states like Texas.

Schools are arranged by classification to ensure that schools compete on a regular basis with other schools in the geographic area of a similar size. The classifications are A (the smallest), AA, AAA, AAAA, and AAAAA (the largest). The corresponding alphanumeric designations (1A, 2A, 3A, 4A, and 5A) are used in everyday conversation, but officially UIL only uses the alphabetic designations. The general guideline is that the UIL desires between 220-245 schools in Class AAAAA, at least 200 schools in Classes AA, AAA, and AAAA with the grades 9-12 enrollment ratio for those classes no greater than 2.0 between the largest and smallest school in each class, and Class A consisting of all other schools.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:27 PM on September 27, 2009


Amazing woman. Writing was bearable but only just. Is there a decathalon for women in the olympics?
posted by gen at 8:26 PM on September 27, 2009


Is there a decathalon for women in the olympics?

Women compete in the heptathlon. According to the article, the college coach that signed her to an athletic scholarship was eying that event for her.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:36 PM on September 27, 2009


When the nay sayers nay you pick up your pace
So nothing's going to stop me so get out of my face.
I'm having adventures all over the place.
Rochelle Rochelle

posted by iviken at 3:32 AM on September 28, 2009


I'm calling for a drugs test.
too long didn't read. (and I hate feel good sports stories.) was hoping for a breif summary on what exactly happened
posted by mary8nne at 9:09 AM on September 28, 2009


If you can't be bothered to read a (not very long, especially if you read the single-page version linked above) story about a subject you hate, why the hell would you want a summary? Jesus Christ.

Here's a summary: Amazing girl has determination to do amazing things despite obstacles.

Here's another: At age 17, Bonnie Richardson won the Texas state track team championship all by herself. Then she did it again.
posted by rtha at 9:15 AM on September 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


the brief summary is in the first comment's link but here is the meat:
2008 Championship

In 2008, Richardson competed as the entire Rochelle team in five events at Myers Stadium on the campus of the University of Texas.
On the first day of competition, Richardson won the high jump (5 feet 5 inches; 1.65 metres), placed second in the long jump (18 feet 7 inches; 5.77 metres), and placed third in the discus (121 feet; 36.88 metres).
On the second day, Richardson won the 200 metres (25.03 seconds) and was second in the 100 metres (12.19 seconds), losing by a mere one-hundredth of a second.[2][3]
Richardson's accomplishments over the two-day meet earned her (and Rochelle) a total of 42 points, six ahead of Chilton and Seymour, tied for second place.[2] It should be noted that she accomplished this despite being unable to participate in the relay races, which under UIL scoring rules award double the points of individual events.[1]
Richardson became the first female, and only the third person, to singlehandedly win a Texas state team title, joining James Segrest (Class 2A in 1954) and Frank Pollard (Class B in 1976).[2]
[edit]2009 Championship

In 2009, Richardson qualified for the same five events, again as the entire Rochelle team.[1]
On the first day, Richardson defended her long jump title (17 feet 4.50 inches; 5.30 metres), also took the title in the high jump (5 feet 8 inches; 1.73 metres), and placed second in the discus (126 feet 9 inches; 38.63 metres), for a total of 28 points.
On the second day, Richardson placed third in the 200 metres (25.78 seconds) and fourth in the 100 metres (12.51 seconds).
Richardson's accomplishments over the two-day meet earner her and Rochelle 38 points, two points better than second-place Cayuga. Again, as with the prior year, she could not compete in relay events which are scored double that of individual events.
[edit]Other Accomplishments

In addition to her track exploits, Richardson was named the Class A Division II high school basketball player of the year.[1] She was the valedictorian of her class of 14 and a member of the National Honor Society.
She will attend Texas A&M University in the fall of 2009 with a full scholarship.[1]
What amazes me is that this is actually the third time this has happened in Texas alone.
posted by caddis at 9:16 AM on September 28, 2009


I don't blame mary8nne for not reading the article, it is horribly written. Being forced to read it would probably violate the Geneva Convention.
posted by caddis at 9:19 AM on September 28, 2009


I really hope that Bonnie's happier than she seems in this article. What an amazing person.

But, you know, feel free to continue to carp about the writing rather than acknowledging what this is actually about.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 10:16 AM on September 28, 2009


One can do both.
posted by caddis at 5:33 PM on September 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


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