NCAA Championship Women's Track and Field team honored at State Capitol
There was a sense of irony at the Texas State Capitol on Tuesday when the House of Representatives and the Senate both honored the Texas women's track and field team for winning the 2005 NCAA Outdoor Championships - irony in the fact that for the first time in a long, long time, the Longhorn student-athletes did not lead or set the pace. Gladly, they were the followers and the recipients of congratulations from hundreds of well-wishers at the Capitol as they traversed through the corridors, elevators, stairwells and House and Senate chambers, gaining congratulations and recognition at every stop.
In Sacramento, Calif. this past June, the Longhorns, led by head coach Beverly Kearney, earned the program's fifth NCAA track and field title (third outdoor crown overall), and the first since the spring of 1999. Remarkably, Texas accomplished this feat with only seven competitors at the NCAA national meet behind Kearney, who has battled daily the past two-plus years to recover from a nearly-paralyzing auto accident which occurred in Florida in December of 2002 and claimed the lives of two of her closest friends.
Texas won the final event of the NCAA outdoor meet (the 4x400 meter relay which was run by juniors Sheretta Jones, Melaine Walker and LaTashia Kerr along with sophomore anchor Jerrika Chapple) to clinch the NCAA title with a first-place finish of 3:27.13. The Longhorns trailed UCLA by three points and were five points ahead of South Carolina heading into the 4x400-meter relay, and finished with 55 points after the 4x400 win. UCLA, without a team in the mile relay, and South Carolina ended up tied for second with 48 points apiece.
UT was led at the NCAA meet by sophomore Marshevet Hooker. Hooker earned an individual national championship in the 100 meters and anchored the 4x100-meter relay to the national title, while finishing second in the long jump at the 2005 NCAAs. The other two Longhorns All-America competitors and scorers at the meet were junior sprinter Ashlee Williams and sophomore shot putter Michelle Carter.
At season's end, Kearney and Hooker were recognized as 2005 Women's Outdoor Coach and Athlete of the Year, respectively, by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA).
The morning began with the team, coaches and support staff gathering in the office of State Representative Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), who sponsored the resolution congratulating the Longhorns' NCAA victory in the House.
After posing for photographs, the UT contingent was led through the maze of marble hallways and elevators to the House of Representatives floor where they were recognized on the floor and held a photo session for the media and with members of the House.
"I'm really pleased to be here today with my teammates and coaches," noted senior-to-be Sheretta Jones, an All-American sprinter who also ran on UT's winning 4x400 quartet, running the first leg of the victorious relay.
Jones went on to say that she had stepped away from "her great summer internship experience" at Dell Computers to attend Tuesday's Capitol salute for the Longhorns. "My supervisors certainly understood why I wasn't coming in until later today," laughed Jones, a business major who is interning at ATG Finance Dell for the summer session. "This is a great honor for our program, and we appreciate it."
In reading the House resolution honoring the Longhorns, Rep. Dukes noted that "A few weeks ago our legislature honored the Texas baseball team for winning the national championship, and today is it our turn to honor the dynamic women from UT who also won a national championship this June. It takes tremendous dedication to achieve as they did, and these magnificent seven females did just that, coming from behind to score 55 points and win the championship. These seven are one of the smallest squads in the history of the NCAA to win a championship, and today we pay tribute to them and their coaches and congratulate them."
In the Senate chambers a while later, a resolution honoring the squad was read by Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos (D-District 14, Travis County).
While addressing the Senate and the Longhorn continent gathered at the front of the House floor, Barrientos stated that "we have with us today an extremely dedicated group of women, worth of special legislative acknowledgement for their superior efforts. With only seven athletes, they won the fifth national championship in Texas track history- what an outstanding group of student-athletes we have assembled here!"
Turning to Kearney, Barrientos noted that "for you, Coach Kearney, we know that this is a very special championship for you, and you are truly an inspiration to us all."
The team was then greeted on the Senate floor by numerous members of the Senate and by Governor Rick Perry, who warmly congratulated each student-athlete and the coaches individually.
"It was a little overwhelming to meet all the representatives and senators and Governor Perry," stated Hooker, a native of San Antonio. "I was especially honored to have the Senators from my district (Senators Leticia Van de Putte and Judith Zaffirini) talk about me being from Bexar County and wish us well and then meet me after our photo session. That was really unexpected and I thank them for doing that."
Hooker's teammates Michelle Carter and Jerrika Chapple echoed those same feelings.
"This was a wonderful experience for all of us," noted junior-to-be Carter, All-America shot putter who placed second in that event at the NCAA outdoor meet. "I've always wanted to come to the Capitol to visit - it is so beautiful and spacious, and so historical, and to think that the first time I've come here is to be honored with my teammates! That is a great, great feeling."
"The Capitol is so much bigger than I ever imagined," Carter said. "And to meet people like Senator Barrientos, who is a big Longhorn fan and who told us he used to compete in track, and then to see Governor Perry - someone we see on campus working out with us! - was very exciting."
"It was a great experience to come to the Capitol and meet everyone," stated All-America relay standout Chapple, who anchored UT's winning NCAA 4x400 relay. "We really appreciate it. Right now, I have to get on my cell phone and call my grandmother and tell her all about it!"
The tremendous experience of being recognized by the leaders of the State of Texas was summed up by Kearney.
"It's been an unbelievable morning for these young ladies," stated Kearney. "I'm glad they got the opportunity to visit the House and the Senate floors. I don't think you can realize the magnitude of winning a national championship and seeing the pride that people have for our UT athletics program when you are competing; but, coming here and having this unique experience today has really had an impact on all of us. By the time we finished our visit to the State Capitol, all of our student-athletes were over-whelmed with being in this atmosphere.
"To see them receive congratulations and honors for all their perseverance and hard work is very emotional right now for me," concluded Kearney. "It is heartfelt for me to see them recognized here today. It is a great way to cap off a tremendous year."