Bonnie Richardson was a one-person team for Rochelle High School in the Texas state track meet. The junior specializes in the sprints and the jumping events.

She scored 42 points with two firsts, two seconds and a third. And this was good enough to give Richardson and Rochelle the girls' championship in Class 1A.

Richardson's solo feat made national news. Among those taking note was Heather Van Norman, the track coach at Tulane University.

"My reaction was, 'You go, girl,'" Van Norman said. "I said to some people here, 'I know what that's like, although with me, it wasn't that big of a deal.'"

Van Norman was raised in Windom, Minn., the daughter of adoptive parents Don and Millie. Her parents are now retired in Panama City, Fla.

Heather was an eighth-grader at Windom when she finished third in both the 200- and 400-meter events in the state Class 1A meet. She never lost another race in high school, winning the "quadruple triple" -- the 100, 200 and 400 -- as a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior. She finished high school with a 147-race winning streak.

Heather was a one-person team for Windom in 1987 and her 30 points won the state title. As a senior in 1988, she came with four teammates and they finished third in the 2-mile relay. The 36 points gave Windom another state title.

Van Norman had decided by then that she wanted to go to the school in the South. Trouble was, she already had signed a letter of intent with the Gophers, and Minnesota wouldn't let her out of the commitment.

She starred as a freshman for the Gophers, then transferred to Louisiana State. She was back home briefly in 1995 and served as Eden Prairie's boys' coach that spring.

Van Norman had earned All-America status in six events during her three seasons at LSU. This gave her name recognition in that part of the country.

She was an assistant at Rice University in 1996 and 1997, then was hired for a similar job at Georgia Tech. That's where she met Derek Smith, a member of the United States' gold-winning 400 relay team at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

"We've been a couple for a long time," Van Norman said. "We have a 6-year-old, Jasmine. We haven't gotten married yet.

"We've gone from making plans for an elaborate wedding and not being able to find the time, to me saying, 'OK, hon, let's just elope."

"When I'm asked about getting married these days, I say, 'Soon, Dad, soon.'"

There's another person in the New Orleans household: Odell Beckem Jr., 15, the son Heather had with Odell Sr., who was a football player when she was at LSU.

"Odell's going to Isidore Newman -- the great high school here that Peyton and Eli Manning attended," Van Norman said. "He's done well in both track and baseball, but mostly, he's a football and basketball player.

"We're starting to hear from recruiters. It's interesting to be on the other side of that."

Van Norman was hired as Tulane's track and field coach in the summer of 2002. On Wednesday, she was in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, waiting out a flight delay with her team as they headed for the Conference USA meet in El Paso, Texas.

"Last year, we finished eighth in the Mideast Regional and sent some athletes to the NCAA meet," Van Norman said. "For a small school, we've done well. Hopefully, we can get a couple more to the NCAA this year."

Van Norman coached both the women's and men's teams in 2005. Then, Hurricane Katrina struck in August, the athletes were dispersed to Louisiana Tech and elsewhere, and the men's team wound up being disbanded.

"We were lucky when we got back, that our home didn't really suffer damage," she said. "My track was a lake, though."

Van Norman wants the world to know that the New Orleans' comeback is going strong. And what's happening with the NBA Hornets is part of that.

"We didn't even know if New Orleans was going to get the team back from Oklahoma City, and now, there's a sign celebrating the Hornets wherever you look," she said.

"It's great. Everyone in the city has the spirit. Go Hornets!"

Patrick Reusse can be heard weekdays on AM-1500 KSTP at 6:45 and 7:45 a.m. and 4:40 p.m. •