Sonya Watkins Ellis (’96)

In My Words 2.19.24

As part of the celebration of Black History Month in 2024, Houston Athletics is dedicated to recognizing and highlighting the achievements of former student-athletes who have transcended their roles on the field and court to become leaders in their respective professions. These student-athletes embody the values of perseverance, excellence, and leadership instilled during their time at the University of Houston.

Sonya Watkins Ellis’ name blankets the Houston Women’s Basketball record books. Her decorated career includes 1,752 points – second in Houston career history – alongside a .574 field goal percentage, which ranks third in team lore.

The forward was three times named the team’s MVP (1983-84; 1984-85; 1985-86) and became the first and only Cougar to earn Southwest Conference Player of the Year honors in 1985-86. She would later be named to the league’s all-decade team.

The Detroit native is second in field goals (740), fourth in double-doubles (28), sixth in program history in rebounds (821) and ninth in made free throws (752). She was twice named to the All-Southwest Conference Tournament team (1983-84; 1985-86) and suited up for nearly 2,000 minutes in her distinguished four-year career.

Last September, Watkins Ellis was inducted into the Houston Athletics Hall of Honor. Below is her story, life lessons and what Black History Month means to her.
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Coming from Detroit, Michigan, the University of Houston was my home away from home. My second family, this is where I learned to be more independent. I was raised in a competitive environment and of course it starts with your siblings. At an early age, we were introduced to various sports like golf, tennis, softball, baseball, gymnastics, and basketball, which allowed us to find our niche. I continued to play both softball and basketball but got more serious about basketball in high school.

Being a member of the basketball team at Houston taught me valuable life lessons – it showed me what it means to be a part of a team and that hard work and dedication would help me to be successful both then and now; I just had to put in the time and be devoted to whatever I was doing.

Basketball helped open my eyes to the world. I was always quiet and laid back when I was younger and lacked self-confidence. During my tenure at Houston, I worked hard, became captain for my last few years and was a leader. People always say that you should lead by example, and I agree with that. This might have been what helped me get to the current position with the Houston Parks and Recreation Department as an Assistant Customer Service Manager.

I coached at St. Agnes High School for four years, then youth, ages 6-18, at the Houston Parks and Recreation Department and eventually a select girls basketball team, for over five years. Giving back to the youth and community was a joy, teaching them and guiding them, not only in basketball, but in life.

Black History Month gives me an appreciation of my heritage. It’s great to know of all the achievements that African Americans have made and how far they have come showing the world that we can succeed too. It only feels right to keeping working in the community that supported me and give back in any way I can.

It’s important to provide support, be open-minded, know our values and help educate others on our history. It has been washed away so it always feels great to able to value and cherish the knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Each year I tend to learn more about my ancestors, their struggles and their successes.

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