Player of the Year: Pookie Gonzalez
She’s qualified because: Closed a 105-2 career with a 29-0 record and a fourth straight Central Section individual title while being named Bee Player of the Year a third consecutive time. She was also a three-time Bee All-Star in tennis, where she won two section doubles championships, and a Bee All-Star last fall in volleyball. She’s the first female three-sport Bee All-Star in one school year. Next stop: Northern Illinois for volleyball.
Her legacy now established like none other in the history of female athletics at Bullard High, the question: Who will follow Pookie Gonzalez?
Katie McCormick would like to.
"Mom, do you think I could be the next Pookie?" the incoming sixth-grader at Gibson Elementary asked Rhonda McCormick recently.
The mother then explained to her daughter the commitment and sacrifices that helped Gonzalez become an unprecedented three-sport Bee All-Star in her senior year and, finally, badminton's Player of the Year for the third consecutive season after winning a fourth Central Section individual title.
For all her rewards -- including a volleyball scholarship at Northern Illinois -- perhaps none was as touching as when Katie arrived at Gonzalez's graduation party sporting a T-shirt that read: "I'm the next POOKIE."
"At first," Gonzalez says, "I was shocked. But then I was happy to be a role model and motivate kids I don't even know, to inspire them to share the love I have for sports and activities."
She has tackled them with a combination of power and athletic ability unequaled in the Central Section while playing volleyball and tennis concurrently in the fall, and badminton in the spring.
Her mere presence, Clovis East badminton/tennis coach Janine Sodersten says, has had a buckling effect on her opponents.
"I don't know enough about volleyball," Sodersten says, "but the minute she walks onto a tennis court, the minute she walks onto a badminton court, my kids are like, 'Oh my gosh, I've got to play Pookie; she hits so hard.' The intimidation factor, before they even got on the court, they had already lost."
Yet Sodersten and her players also discovered the soft side of Gonzalez, who wore the same turquoise socks with pink flamingos for all six of the section championships she won in badminton and tennis (two in doubles) in four years.
"She's the nicest kid," Sodersten says, "just a great all-around kid. The presence is there, then the kids get to know her and it's like, 'OK, OK, she's human.' "
It was quite the run, given the inordinate itinerary.
Just one example: In the fall on campus, she completed a doubles tennis playoff match against Clovis East, raced into the gym, peeled off her tennis skirt in a corner -- her volleyball shorts already underneath -- exchanged shoes and, with the second pair untied, was the final Knights player introduced moments before first serve against Edison.
She credits Bullard's public address announcer, Mike Roblee, for "stalling majorly" in his pre-game announcements, allowing her just enough time to start the match.
"All these years," Gonzalez says, "it wasn't stressful, but crazy, to say the least, keeping track of practices, dates of tournaments and how to make sure they were not conflicting and overlapping."
Her mother, Stacey Goedhard-Gonzalez, says: "I've loved it. And I've loved the commotion, too. My life will be completely different without her here."
For all the dominance in badminton and tennis, Gonzalez found her four-year athletic highlight in her team sport -- volleyball -- this year. That's when the Knights twice defeated Buchanan, a perennial power Bullard hadn't beaten in years.
"We were always the underdog against Clovis schools," Gonzalez says, "and beating Buchanan kind of fulfilled a dream."
All along, she says, her goal was to pursue volleyball in college.
Leaving Bullard with a school-record 2,049 assists, she will be a setter for DeKalb-based Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference. She will also pack her tennis racket for the possibility of swinging a bit with the Huskies in practice.
But she says she will leave her badminton racket at home.
"No she won't," Mom predicts. "She might as well take it because I know I will be sending it. She likes competing and having fun.
"That's her nature."