Bill Sonia sits at a recent SMU women’s basketball game. The loudspeaker is playing, “Everybody clap your hands!” However, Bill is not clapping. He does not have time to clap, he is too busy logging stats on his phone.
If SMU President Gerald Turner were in attendance, he would shake Bill’s hand.
“Through challenging years and championship years,” President Turner said, “a major constant for the women’s basketball team is the faithful, always present, support of Bill Sonia for the past 30 years!”
The athletics staff at SMU would like to see more people in their stands like Bill Sonia.
Bill is no regular fan. For him, SMU women’s basketball games are more than sporting events. They are a family affair, they are his connection to the SMU community, to a majority of his friends on Facebook, and they are a part of his regular routine. Bill has not missed a game in 30 years, and it is for this reason that he is seen as a staple face to the SMU women’s basketball program.
“I’m 85 now, so it’s been about exactly 30 years since I started going to these games,” Bill said. “Since then, at least one member of my family has been present for every game.”
The Sonia family consists of Bill, his wife Linda, and their three children: two daughters and one son. Bill states that his daughters are a major reason his love for the game developed.
“Well, in my younger days I was seen to be somewhat of a male chauvinist, you see. My background was that boys played sports and women learned how to cook,” Bill said. “What converted me was that my first two children were daughters.”
Bill coached his daughters’ recreational basketball teams while they were young. But when his daughters outgrew the sport, he did not. Bill continued to coach women’s basketball whenever there was a team in need of a coach, and it was during this time that he realized that the world wrongly minimizes women’s basketball.
“I was just appalled at the difference between the men’s and women’s facilities. It was terrible,” Bill said. “The organization with which we were working really helped us work to get the girl’s programs upgraded.”
Bill feels they were extremely successful in helping the program improve their facilities.
Coaching runs in the family. Bill’s wife Linda has coached several teams as well, and she was also a great player while she was in school, though Bill likes to tease her.
“Well okay sure, but she only played when they ran half of the court,” Bill jokes with Linda.
Bill did not attend SMU or have any children that did, but somehow he developed a love for the lady ‘Stangs, as the fans call the team.
“Well what brought me here was that I was a coach for a girl when she was in sixth and seventh grade, and we kept in touch,” Bill said. “She sent me a letter one day saying that she was playing for Texas A&M, and they were playing SMU in Dallas, and I should come to a game.”
After that game, Bill continued to attend SMU games. He thinks that a major aspect that draws him in, is what he would refer to as the “purity of the sport”.
“Nobody is paying parents or agents to influence a girl to play at a particular school,” Bill said. “I haven’t seen any ‘one and done’ instances in college women’s basketball. Most are playing or the love of the game.”
Bill states that his biggest motivation, and reward, for being a dedicated fan is the relationships that he has built along the way.
“We sat among the players’ families, and go to know them and know the players, and it all became such a family affair that we kept coming,” Bill said.
Akil Simpson is a former SMU women’s basketball player and current assistant coach. Through her transition from player to coach, through changes in coaching staff, Bill has always been a constant.
“I think Bill is the epitome of dedication. He’s been here through so many changes,” Simpson said. “I mean there was a coaching change, and Bill is still here. He’s still trying to get to know the players and get to know the staff.”
Simpson remembers that once at an out of town game she saw the Sonia family at a restaurant and their two families ate together. She describes Bill as both a loyal fan and a friend.
Bill is not an idle fan, he knows all of the stats, and is the go-to informant when a fellow fan has a question. He is focused and he is optimistic about the prospects for the current team.
“They are a young team, the youngest of all women’s basketball teams out there right now, but I see a lot of great things happening,” Sonia said.
Bill does not have a favorite team throughout the years, but he does have a dream team that he has comprised in his head of the best players from each year.
“It would have people like Keena Mayes, Deena Rutger, Kim Brandl, and Alicia Froling,” Bill said, “I could take that team to the Final Four.”
One of Bill’s favorite games of all time had Kim Brandl as the star.
“In 1996 in Maryland we were down by 6 points with 12 seconds left in the game,” Bill said with his hands flailing. He leans in a little more, and his face lights up.
“We fouled one player, and it wouldn’t work these days because there’s no such thing as the one-on-one free throw but back then there was,” Bill said. “They missed the free throw, and we got the ball, then Kim Brandl hits a three-pointer, now there’s six seconds left. They fowled again, it repeated, and then Brandl went down for another three-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game.”
In overtime, Bill thinks it was the momentum that carried the team to a win.
Bill is the perfect fan, and he is the type of fan SMU athletics would love to see more of.
“One of our goals in athletics is to connect with the community and to develop relationships with fans,” Senior Associate A.D. Brad Sutton said. “We, as a department, have been lucky to connect with individuals like Mr. Sonia. It’s great to know that we have such a great advocate in the community and greatly appreciate his long-standing support of our teams and student-athletes.”
SMU fans and players alike see Bill as one of the staple faces of the SMU women’s basketball program.
“I would probably agree,” Bill said.