From the fall of 1986 to the winter of 1990, Tonya Stites (MacKendrick) of Cedaredge High School developed into one of Colorado’s best basketball players. Her skills on the court were a result of a number of factors and carried her to a storied career at Mesa State College of Grand Junction, Colorado (now Colorado Mesa University).
MacKendrick’s high school basketball resume is certainly amazing. In 1988 and 1989, she led the now defunct Gunnison Valley League (GVL) in scoring with points per game averages of 19.8 and 25.1, respectively. Her 25.1 average led the state, as well. MacKendrick averaged over 21 points her senior year and was selected to the all-state teams 1989 and 1990. A well-rounded player, she also finished in the league’s top five in steals, rebounds and assists on her way to becoming a first team all-conference selection for three consecutive seasons.
A few highlights of her high school career include helping lead the Cedaredge High School Bruins team to a GVL championship and to the state tournament, a first since 1928 (yes, Cedaredge High School had a girls basketball team in ‘28).
As for her Mesa State College Mavericks (MSC) accolades, well… MacKendrick was so successful as a member of the Mesa State College basketball team that the program retired her number. Nobody will ever wear No. 42 for the Mavericks again. That’s saying something. MacKendrick remains the leading scorer and rebounder in the MSC/CMU womens’ basketball program over the course of a career. Her career field-goals and free throws made still stand as records.
Adding to her accomplishments, MacKendrick was inducted into the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) Hall of Fame and the MSC/CMU Hall of Fame, and she was a two-time All-American recipient. MacKendrick eamed First Team Academic All-American honors after previously having been an honorable mention selection. She was selected All-RMAC First Team from 1992-1994 and made the RMAC Centennial Celebration All-Time Team.
Parents play an important role in the development of young student-athletes. MacKendrick said her parents were a great example of parenting for their daughter, something she’s very thankful for.
“My parents were always supportive and came to all my games, including all the home games and some away games in college,” said MacKendrick. “They supported me by sending me to individual camps in the summer, and they were also sometimes my biggest critics, which pushed me to be better each game.”
With such a stellar career one can imagine it would be difficult to narrow moments down to the two most memorable.
“In high school, it was probably playing in the state tournament my senior year,” said MacKendrick. “We didn’t do very well at the tournament, but it was quite a journey for small town kids to go to Colorado Springs to play!”
“In college, it was a Thanksgiving tournament in Silver City, New Mexico,” continued MacKendrick. “I was a sophomore and enjoying getting to dominate the paint area due to single coverage. It was beautiful! We were in the championship game, and it was back and forth. It was down to the final seconds, and I got the ball and put in the basket to win the game and the tournament. It was great!”
Athletics in middle school, high school and beyond can help prepare student-athletes for life. MacKendrick has a deep appreciation for the impact they had on her.
“Sports are great teachers for a lot of life’s lessons. I played team sports, but individually I was a good athlete. However, I learned that you have to work as a team to be successful overall; I also learned that every person has to do their job to be successful in a team environment,” said MacKendrick. “I learned leadership; my style was more of a lead by example, but my collegiate senior year challenged this leadership style and made me have to try other styles of leadership.
“I learned the value of strong mentors; my college coach was my strongest mentor and someone I could rely on during good and bad times,” continued MacKendrick. “I learned the heartbreak of defeat in a playoff game, and how to recover from difficult times. I learned how to focus on what I could control and encourage others along the way. I also learned humility; I was the ‘star’ on the teams I played on, but you don’t get to be the ‘star’ without a lot of wonderful teammates, coaches and family support behind you.”
MacKendrick knows first-hand some keys to success and just what it takes to get there.
“I played the game during a time before club sports and specializing in one sport was popular. My advice to small-town athletes is to pursue your dream, but be realistic in your opportunities,” said MacKendrick. “The summer of my high school senior year I was fortunate to attend an invitation-only skills camp at the University of Colorado-Boulder that was extremely beneficial to taking my skills to the next level.
“A weight program is good, though in high school my weights program was bucking hay bales in the summer. I also think having some down time from the game was good,” continued MacKendrick. “I was involved in volleyball (all-state first team selection) as well, so I didn’t specialize my years in high school, and I wouldn’t have changed that either. I think you have to be willing to work hard, understand that choices have to be made, and do your job, whatever your role is. I loved playing the games — I loved the thrill of a crowd, of playing someone who is doing their best to stop you, and you figure out how to get around them and beat them.”
MacKendrick believes athletics helped prepare her for a long-lasting career. She’s been a teacher for 24 years, 23 of which have been at Delta High School.
“As a teacher, I’m still the decision maker in my classroom, but I work with other staff members in a school, my team. It takes all of us to be the best to give students the best academic opportunities we can provide,” said MacKendrick. “I work hard and do my job as well as I can to best prepare students for future choices, whether that be my AP classes or my standard classes. Life always deals you setbacks and dealing with disappointment and having to find a way to keep going was practiced throughout my athletic career and carries over to life now.”
Time flies by and many great student-athletes find success year in and year out. MacKendrick’s accomplishments will always be remembered at Cedaredge High School and Colorado Mesa University.
“I want to be remembered as a hard-working athlete who played on great teams full of great teammates and coaches,” said MacKendrick. “I want to be remembered as striving to always do my job to the best of my ability on and off the court and pushing others to reach their potential.”