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Sonja Patrice Tate (1971–)

Sonja Patrice Tate, who played basketball at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County) from 1989 to 1993, is one of the finest female athletes in the state’s history. As of 2014, she remains the scoring leader in basketball at ASU, with 2,312 points. In addition, Tate holds the single-season scoring record, with 820 points during the 1992–93 season. She has the top five single-game scoring performances at ASU. Tate also is the only ASU women’s player to have scored forty or more points in a game, a feat she accomplished five times. She returned to ASU prior to the 2012–13 basketball season to serve as an assistant coach for the women’s team.

Sonja Tate was born on September 7, 1971, in Hughes (St. Francis County), the daughter of Artry Lee Tate and Robert Lee Tate Sr. She had eight brothers and two sisters. Raised in rural Crittenden County near the community of Edmondson, Tate learned to compete athletically at an early age. She played junior high basketball at West Memphis (Crittenden County). At West Memphis High School, she was a starter on the varsity team by the latter part of her tenth-grade season. She signed a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) letter of intent to play basketball at ASU following high school graduation and earned a starting position during her freshman year. Tate was named the Co-Newcomer of the Year in the American South Conference. She earned All-American South Conference honors as a sophomore and All-Sun Belt Conference honors as a junior and senior.

Prior to her senior season, Tate was named a pre-season first-team All-American by Dick Vitale’s Basketball Magazine. Following her senior season, she was named to the Kodak All-America team and was honored as the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.

In addition to being the leading scorer in ASU history, Tate has the top five single-game scoring performances, including a fifty-point outing against the University of Louisiana–Lafayette during the 1992–93 season. The same season, she made ninety-five three-point shots, an ASU record. Tate holds the single-season rebounding record with 327 rebounds and is third on the all-time rebounding list with 1,006 rebounds. She is also the school’s career steals leader with 402 steals, owning ASU’s top two single-season steal records with 125 during the 1992–93 season and 114 during the 1991–92 season. Tate is the only player in ASU history to have a quadruple double after finishing with twenty-nine points, fourteen rebounds, ten assists, and ten steals in an 86–59 victory at Mississippi Valley State University on January 27, 1993. She also won most valuable player honors in the 1993 National Women’s Invitation Tournament at Amarillo, Texas, after leading ASU to a 67–54 victory over Southern Methodist University in the finals.

In addition, Tate was a track All-American and remains in the top ten in ASU history in six events. She set the school record in the heptathlon in 1994 with 5,247 points. As of 2014, that performances ranks as second best in ASU history.

After finishing her college basketball career in the spring of 1993, Tate went to Europe to play professional basketball. She disliked being out of the country, however, and returned to Jonesboro to finish her course work toward a bachelor’s degree from ASU while competing in track, a sport in which she still had eligibility remaining.

In 1996, the National Basketball Association (NBA) Board of Governors approved the creation of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA). The new league was announced at a news conference on April 24, 1996. At about the same time, another women’s professional league known as the American Basketball League (ABL) was formed. The surge in interest in women’s basketball had followed the gold medal performance of the U.S. women’s team at the 1996 Olympics.

Tate went to Atlanta to try out for the ABL. A week later, she learned that she had been selected to play for the Columbus Quest in Columbus, Ohio. The Quest won the ABL’s Eastern Conference during both the 1996–97 and 1997–98 seasons. Columbus went on to beat Richmond, Virginia, for the title the first year and defeated Long Beach, California, for the title the second season. Columbus was leading the conference again with an 11–3 record in late 1998 when the league folded.

At the start, the ABL had been considered a better league than the WNBA and generally paid better salaries. However, the ABL declared bankruptcy on December 22, 1998, and suspended its operations. Tate attended a camp in Chicago, Illinois, and was selected to play for the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA. Though playing only one complete season and part of a second, Tate led the team in minutes played, assists, and steals. She also was among the top three rebounders on the team. A knee injury resulted in her being waived before the start of the 2001 season.

After leaving the Lynx, Tate played professionally in France, Russia, and Spain. She retired from basketball at the end of the 2004 season and returned to Jonesboro. She earned a Master’s of Education degree from ASU in 2005. Tate was inducted into the ASU Hall of Honor in 2004. She then moved to North Carolina, where she coached at two high schools. At William A. Hough High School in Charlotte, she led the team to a two-year record of 37–19 and two trips to the state playoffs.

At the end of the 2012 season, Tate began applying for college coaching jobs. She was hired as assistant coach for ASU women's basketball and moved back to Crittenden County to be near her aging parents. Tate was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in March 2013. In April 2015, she announced her move to Mid-South Community College to coach the Lady Greyhounds.

For additional information:
Schulte, Troy. “Tate Came up Big in Itta Bena.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 5, 2013, pp. 1C, 5C.

“Sonja Tate.” Arkansas State Athletics. http://www.astateredwolves.com/ViewArticle.dbml?ATCLID=205436671 (accessed June 11, 2014).

Williams, Helaine R. “Sonja Patrice Tate.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 26, 2014, pp. 1D, 5D.

 

Rex Nelson
Arkansas’ Independent Colleges & Universities

Last Updated 7/14/2016

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