Win or lose, Horner will leave the Big House a champion
March 8, 2001
There are some things you just don't forget, and I still remember distinctly the first time I heard the name Monique Horner.
Southeast coach Joe Miller was calling in a softball game more than five years ago when I asked for his leading hitters. He reeled off Horner's line for the night: Four hits, two home runs.
OK. So Joe can pick talent.
But there's no way he could have known just what a high school legend Horner would become while at Southeast Lauderdale.
You all know the story. Because of injuries, Miller brought Horner up to his varsity basketball squad later that same school year. She started for him as a seventh-grader, then helped the Lady Tigers to the Big House as an eighth-grader.
She told me then, after a one-game exit, that she'd be back.
I gave her little chance. And though it took her longer than she wanted, she proved me wrong.
I couldn't begin to tell you my favorite Monique Horner story.
Maybe it was when she was playing for North Meridian Optimist in a 14-under softball tournament a few years back.
NMO's Mike Luke, now the softball coach at Neshoba Central, made me promise to watch her. She didn't take long to impress, smashing the first pitch she saw farther than I've ever hit a softball in my life.
Maybe it was later in her softball career, when she was playing against cross-county rival West Lauderdale. Horner, at shortstop, took an errant throw from her second baseman. Airborne, she bare-handed the ball and all in the same motion landed on the bag and sent a rocket to first base for the double play.
Or maybe it was watching Mo score some of her 4,810 points during her high school basketball career more than 1,100 points better than anybody else in Mississippi history.
I've heard the critics say she's out of shape. Then maybe we should re-consider what we call "in good shape." Because more times than not, you'll find Mo beating other players to the basket in the fourth quarter.
Friday at 1 p.m., Horner will go up against a favored South Pontotoc team that has won 29 straight games in the Class 3A state championship.
And as far as the thousands of red-clad Lady Cougar fans who'll be watching her play for the first time are concerned, she might as well be the devil.
Win or lose, however, they're bound to see that famous Mo smile.
The same smile she wore continuously as she chased me with shaving cream while helping the Meridian High girls celebrate a 5A softball title in 1999.
The same smile she used when leaving Shiloh Park in Brandon on her way to work that convinced my wife to call her on her cell phone with results of the West Lauderdale/Newton County championship matchup.
The same smile she likely wore when speaking to junior-high and elementary students at other schools after she broke the state's scoring record.
And the same smile she wore while signing autographs at the Big House after last Friday's win over Choctaw Central.
I've seen her play hundreds of times, and I'm still amazed.
I always said watching Mo play was kinda like watching a Mack truck going downhill. Miller termed it better last year when Horner was named The Meridian Star's Female Athlete of the Year. Speaking of her injury-prone career, Miller said she "Plays like a bull in a china cabinet."
There are other teams in our coverage area, boys and girls, that I enjoyed watching just as much as Southeast. But there's not a player anywhere who deserved another chance to show the rest of the state what she can do.
Monique Horner is the best high school athlete I've ever seen period.
And with or without a gold ball, she'll leave the Big House Friday as a champion.
Rocky Higginbotham is the sports editor of The Meridian Star. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.