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Paul Sorensen: In a group of WSU legends, Mark Hendrickson still stands out in a crowd

CLE ELUM -- In a crowd that included one guy who played in more NFL games than all but four people in history, another who passed for 44,000 NFL yards, plus a former Outland Trophy winner, and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, it’s hard to stand out in a crowd.

But Mark Hendrickson did. And not just because he’s 6-foot-9.

With all due respect to Jason Hanson, Drew Bledsoe, Rien Long, Mike Utley and the 25 other notables who were part of this past weekend’s Cougar Legends Golf Tournament at Suncadia Resort, Hendrickson occupies a particularly glorious place in Cougar lore.

Here’s why:

He is one of the greatest basketball players in WSU history – ranking No. 6 in career scoring and No. 2 in career rebounding – and he went on to play four seasons in the NBA and 10 seasons in Major League Baseball.

Think about that for a moment.

A guy who stands as one of the 10 best basketball players in school history went on to play a decade of pro ball in another sport after -- after! -- dabbling in the NBA.

The only other Cougar to pull off such a double whammy was Gene Conley, an All-Star and World Series pitcher for the Braves who also collected three NBA championship rings as Bill Russell’s backup on the Boston Celtics in the late 50s/early 60s.

In fact, only 12 people in history have ever played in both the NBA and MLB.

That’s why Mark holds an exalted place in the WSU family. He's unique on a national level.

This September, the Pride of Mount Vernon will be inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame along with Mike Price, Jason Gesser and four others.

It was great to see him at Suncadia. The Legends tournament – a fabulous annual gathering organized by Bledsoe and Gesser to raise money for athletic scholarships at WSU -- has been around since 2011, but this was the first time Mark was able to partake, ostensibly because his baseball career always got in the way.

He still looks like he could dial up that 12-6 curveball. And there’s no way you’d consider getting on a basketball court with him.

Mark lives in York, Penn., just north of Baltimore, where he owns and operates a real estate firm. He said he plans to be part of the Legends event each year and hopes to bring his wife Cortney out with him next time around. "I've been out of the WSU family loops for awhile. I've always followed the Cougs but I haven't been back out in 20 years. What a great way to reconnect and support a good cause.

"A lot of those Legends are younger than I am," he added, "but it was nice to see my era there -- Torey Hunter, Drew Bledsoe, Sarah Silvernail, Bill Doba and others ... the mutual respect of these fellow athletes is really special ... We just need to get more former basketball players out there."

Asked after the event if he understands the unique place he holds in WSU history, Mark is the quintessential Coug: "When I got to Pullman I just put my head down and went to work and feel the same now --  I'm just part of the family."


* Kim Welch, the greatest golfer in WSU history and The Big Break Ka’anapali 2008 champion, generated a windfall for the Cougar Athletic Fund on Sunday when booster Greg Rankich’s team paid $45,000 in order to get her on their team for Monday’s golf tourney.  The previous Legends bidding record was $26,000 for Bledsoe.  Idle thought: In 1985 I bought my first house for $45,000.

* In all, the Legends event raised $450,000 for the CAF.  That’s a critical boost, because WSU is the only school in the Pac-12 whose alumni donations don’t cover the full cost of athletic scholarships. The resulting gap of $4 million is filled from the operating budget.

* New Cougar golf coach Dustin White hit the pin and nearly had a hole-in-one in the Brotherton Cadillac closest-to-the-pin competition on Sunday!  Coach still has game! Former Cougar All-American Mkristo Bruce, a proud member of the Brotherton team, served as the official host of the competition. He showed he can handle the sticks, too. He stepped into the tee box in a suit and tie and casually placed one on the green.

* I had a great conversation with WSU play-by-play man Matt Chazanow, who this fall will commence his second season as the voice of the Cougars. He’s a very sharp young man who brings tremendous energy to everything he does with WSU.

* Former Cougar head coach and defensive coordinator Bill Doba made it out to the Legends from his home in southern Michigan. He will turn 76 this fall and all I can say is this: I want what he’s eating (or drinking)! The guy looks fabulous.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-America honors as a senior. He then spent two seasons in the NFL on the Bengals' and 49ers' practice squads and later played in the USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football and has been the color analyst for Eastern Washington University broadcasts for many years since then. He also was a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League. Paul has been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.

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