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MARK J. TERRILL Associated Press file photo Sonja Henning, shown in a 1996 photo in Los Angeles, will be inducted to the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Saturday. Henning played at Horlick from 1983 to 1987 and went to win an NCAA championship at Stanford.

It's going on a quarter century since Sonja Henning last captivated crowds in the John R. Belden Fieldhouse at Horlick High School with her unique basketball skills.

For the students attending Horlick these days, her name likely is some relic from the prehistoric time of telephone booths, vinyl albums and typewriters. How many of those kids on any given day obliviously scurry past a trophy case displaying Henning memorabilia in the school's lobby or scarcely notice a large banner in her honor hanging on the west wall of the fieldhouse?

Yet, for those students who wish to pursue it, her story remains alive as an ultimate source of inspiration. For Henning is someone who has lived her life - she turns 41 Oct. 4 - maximizing her prodigious potential and refusing to concede that limitations exist.

"For me, my drive was always to do my best," Henning said.

It's a lesson that is more applicable than ever as countless kids, some of whom walk the same corridors Henning once walked, consign themselves to unfulfilling lives with minimal desire, hazy dreams and no goals.

"She had that drive and that desire and that dream," said Barb Chambers, Henning's coach at Horlick. "She always kept that dream and I think that kids nowadays need to set goals, have dreams and stick to them.

"If they truly want to do it, anything's possible."

That's the story of Henning's life. From scoring more points than anyone else in the history of Racine County basketball - without the benefit of the 3-point basket, which was introduced the season after she graduated - to leading Stanford to the 1990 NCAA championship to earning a law degree at Duke, achievement has been the hallmark of Henning's life.

Her latest honor comes Saturday, when she is among three people with Racine County connections to be inducted into the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Longtime St. Catherine's boys coach Bob Letsch, and Bruce Heckmann, who retired this year after 27 seasons as coach of the Somers Shoreland Lutheran girls program, also will be inducted during a ceremony at the Madison Marriott Hotel West in Middleton.

"It's an honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame," said Henning, a resident of Portland, Ore., who works as director of global and North American sports marketing business affairs for Nike. "It's a reflection of the tremendous support I received from my great coaches, family members and teammates."

For Henning, a native of Jackson, Tenn., who moved to Wisconsin when she was three months old, there was confusion to initially overcome before her life began to focus into a clear picture of remarkable achievement. And perhaps it never would have come into focus without the support Henning remembers.

"In seventh grade, I had one teacher who wasn't encouraging but rather negative," Henning said. "He lectured me more about how bad my life would be rather than how good it can be. I was shocked and confused because I thought maybe he knew something that all the other adults didn't know.

"I remember having conversations with my junior high coach, Barb Chambers, and my counselor, Mr. (Clarence) Allen about whether this teacher was accurate and I was doomed for despair. Thankfully, Mrs. Chambers and Mr. Allen helped me get back on the right track with their encouraging words and support.

"For kids, having adults in your life who encourage and support you is critical."

Henning took it from there. Chambers placed so much credibility in Henning's character that she named her Horlick's captain as a freshman in 1983.

Within the next eight years, the young lady who once was told she wouldn't succeed, led Horlick to the WIAA Division 1 championship game in 1987 and Stanford to the NCAA championship three years later.

With more than 2,200 career points at Horlick (a state record when she graduated), Henning carried her team offensively. Yet as a future All-American at Stanford, she willingly transformed her game into the unselfish role of floor leader and remains the all-time assists leader at this illustrious program with 757 nearly 20 years after her final game.

"At Horlick and beyond, my only goal was to be a part of the winning team," Henning said. "I felt it was my responsibility to determine what role I needed to play to ensure a win and I was more than happy to ensure any role - even if that meant being the loudest cheerleader on the bench."

Henning won't be in Madison Saturday for the induction ceremony because she is attending the FIBA World Women's Basketball Championships in the Czech Republic.

Yet, her enormous presence will nevertheless be in Madison just as her legacy lives on in the community in which she grew up.

"My wish is that if someone remembers my name, they associate it with what is good about Racine," Henning said. "This is a humble Midwest city that believes in the possibility of all of its inhabitants and will embrace, encourage and inspire individuals to reach beyond their potential."

Peter Jackel is a reporter for The Journal Times. You may contact Peter at (262) 634-3322, ext. 323 or by e-mail at pjackel@journaltimes.com

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