My son called the other night just to tell me that someone had broken Tonya Jorgenson’s Douglas record for scoring the most points in a high school basketball game.
My first thought was that whoever she was, she must be a very good player to score over forty-some points in a single game. Then, when he told me that the girl who broke Tonya’s record was a freshman, well that’s when a ton of nostalgia hit me.
You see, I will never forget when the Douglas coach approached me one day and told me he had a problem.
He had an experienced senior-laden team coming back that year, but he also had a freshman player who was by far the best player on the court. He was worried that starting her above a senior might upset some people, but there was just no-way he could keep this five-foot-five once-in-a-lifetime player off the court.
I told him it was a great problem to have, especially since I knew that Tonya was the type of girl who would not only win the respect of the older players, she would turn them into friends. And that’s just what she did.
And that spring Douglas celebrated its first girls state championship in what has now grown to become almost a Wyoming tradition.
Here are few things you should know about Tonya. She was one of the most unselfish players I’ve ever seen on the court.
And she loves the game of basketball.
That’s why I know exactly what she would have done had she been there the night her record was broken. She would have been up on her feet, cheering with everything she had for the player lighting the scoreboard up.
Then, after the game was over, she would have hugged that player and made sure she knew that she was genuinely happy for her.
And believe me, her joy in that moment would have been genuine. Because she herself, is genuine.
Well, I remember her senior year, when the Douglas coach told me there were several college coaches in the stands watching her play. But that really didn’t matter to her, she still put the team first. She played the game the same way she always did – passing up easy points for herself and unselfishly sharing the ball.
Later on, toward the end of her senior year she showed me a box filled with scholarship offers from schools all across the country. Included in the box were scholarships from several Division I powerhouses.
Her dilemma? She’d received a full-ride offer from Hawaii. And being a Wyoming girl, she could only imagine what a trip to the islands would be like.
However, the Rainbow Warriors had a stipulation for the trip: They simply asked that their school would at least be among her top-three college choices.
But Tonya wouldn’t lie to them. Even after they had offered her a free five-day trip to paradise.
Of course, I always knew she’d wind up playing at Missouri. It had been a life-long dream of hers to play for the Tigers.
And that’s what she did, starting for three seasons and being chosen team captain her senior year.
Then after her graduation from Missouri, she married the man who would soon become the principal at the high school where she coached. The high school she immediately turned into a perennial Missouri high school power. She built teams that were so good, they cracked USA Today’s top 25.
She became a mom and a legend. She is currently listed in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
That’s why I’m writing this with a smile on my face. I’m having fun remembering those wonderful nights of some 30 years ago when I got to see Tonya Jorgenson play basketball – those days when the girls had to play with the same-sized basketball as the boys. And when the three-point shot didn’t even exist.
I can’t forget the night when Tonya set her record. She was sick and struggling with the flu. But because the game was against Wheatland, she felt she just had to play.
You see, that night Douglas came into the game rated number two in the state. They were just a couple votes behind the team rated number one. You guessed it. It was the Bulldogs.
And now I’m thrilled to write this tribute to both Tonya and the freshman ballplayer who just broke her record.
Because some 30 years ago, I got to see a young girl start something special in Douglas. One glance at the rafters in the Rec Center today will tell you all you need to know about the legacy she left behind.
And maybe she wasn’t there Saturday night when all those shots were slipping through the twine.
But if you know Tonya, you know she was cheering each and every shot.
Because she always believed that once you’re a Bearcat, you’re a Bearcat for life.