A little over a year ago as they prepared for the state basketball playoffs, members of the Turner County Lady Rebels had to take time to mourn Darby Pilkinton, who had died in an automobile accident. Even though Darby went to school at Tiftarea Academy, she had many friends in Ashburn.
Now those same players are having to mourn their own teammate, Ronalda Pierce, who died earlier this week in her sleep in Tallahassee.
Ronalda was something special on the basketball court. She was a four-time All-Tiftarea Player of the Year, a first-team All-State player and a third-team Parade All-American.
After seeing Ronalda play in high school during her entire career, there are two things I will probably remember most about her during her days at Turner County High.
In the second round of the 2003 state playoffs, Turner pulled out a 69-63 overtime win over Jeff Davis.
Against Jeff Davis, Ronalda had one of the greatest athletic performances I have ever witnessed in person. She scored 52 points, pulled down 27 rebounds and blocked eight shots.
I remember seeing her laugh and joke with her teammates before that Jeff Davis game. She went from acting like a high school student to being someone who was possessed into carrying her team to a victory. As Turner coach Tony Hobbs said afterwards, "We put a saddle on her and rode her all the way in that game."
The second thing I will remember involves me being dressed up as I presented her with the plaque for being named third-team All-American by Parade magazine.
Parade sent the plaque here and asked the Gazette to present it to Ronalda. I had been around All-Tiftarea, All-Region and All-State players before, but never an All-American, so I put on a tie and really dressed for the occasion.
Even though I did not know Ronalda that well, I did my best to always joke with her to get her to open up to me. That day I could see her smile when I explained to her why I wore the tie. Even though she appeared to me to be very shy, she did show a brilliant smile. I felt privileged to see it that day, but unfortunately for me it is the last time I saw that smile in person.
She went on to Florida State and did not have a super freshman season, but she contributed key minutes and had a big hand in the Lady Seminoles' upset of Duke University.
From what I had gathered, Ronalda was beginning to realize that in Division I basketball, there were many 6-5 players who had a lot of God-given ability. The difference in the great players and the good players was their ability to work.
After facing off against Alana Beard and Diana Taurasi during her freshman season, Ronalda was putting in the work to make herself better and perhaps put her name among the elite in women's college basketball.
I could have easily imagined her being in WNBA one day or the Olympics.
It would have been incredible to have seen Ronalda Pierce from little Ashburn, Georgia playing on the United States Olympic team in the 2008 Games in Beijing, China.
You can never tell, it may have happened. But, unfortunately, we will never know.
God bless Ronalda, her family and her friends. As a reporter I am supposed to be neutral, but it is hard to not care in a case like this, because I can truthfully say I will miss Ronalda Pierce.
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