Former Evergreen student, basketball standout, Katie (Vernon) Ahrens, 1979-2006

By Gail Wood / The Olympian & Evergreen Sports Information Staff

February 8, 2006

Olympia, WA - Former Evergreen guard Katie Vernon Ahrens dies at 27.

Dale Reeves remembers how nervous his little point guard with the perpetual smile and a knack for the pass would get before basketball games.

To vent, Katie Vernon, in her Tumwater Thunderbirds uniform, would go into the stands and lead a youth girls basketball team in cheers, revving them up for games in the late 1990s.

"She was our first female hero in Tumwater," said Reeves, the former Tumwater High School coach. "Kids flocked to our games to see her play."

Tumwater  and The Evergreen State College  lost its favorite little guard Sunday, February 5, when Katie Ahrens died as the result of seizures, a condition that began two years ago. Katie Ahrens (Vernon 's married name) was 27.

As a testament to Ahrens' popularity and the close-knit community feel of sports in Tumwater and Thurston County in general, nearly a thousand people attended a Celebration of Katie's Life at Tumwater's Main Gym on Thursday night, February 9.

"I can still remember when kids at our basketball camps would fight to rebound for Katie Vernon," Reeves said. "They loved her."

And she loved them right back.

"Kids were always trying to make a connection with Katie," Reeves said. "Her smile, her upbeat personality and her love for the game were just so evident."

With Ahrens at point guard, LeAnn Sheets at post and Heidi Hatcher at forward, Tumwater placed fifth at state in 1997. They were the first Tumwater girls team to make it to state.

"LeAnn had the talent and Katie had the charisma," Reeves said.

After playing basketball at South Puget Sound Community College and Evergreen, Katie married Chris Ahrens and became Katie Ahrens.

In the past few years, she coached as an assistant at Olympia and Black Hills and recently began officiating.

A week before she passed away, Ahrens was running up and down a basketball court as she officiated a seventh grade game. After making an out-of-bounds call, someone in the stands kidded her about the call. She looked up and spotted one of her high school teachers, Tim Graham.

"She smiled," Graham said. "Katie always had that smile. She was still doing what she loved."