During halftime at Saturday’s game, fans and athletes took a moment to honor former Weber State University men’s basketball star Willie Sojourner. During a brief ceremony at half court, the family of the late Sojourner was joined by former WSU head coach Phil Johnson as well as members of WSU administration to retire his jersey.
The retirement of his jersey comes 44 years after Sojourner’s career with the Wildcats ended.
“We are thrilled to honor Willie Sojourner as the first Weber State men’s basketball player to have his jersey retired,” Weber State Athletics Director Jerry Bovee said in the announcement of the ceremony. “Willie was a terrific student-athlete and was a major part in helping put Weber State basketball on the map across the nation.”
Sojourner was represented by his wife, Jean, and his sons and their respective families.
“It’s a real honor for us to be recognized in this way,” said Sojourner’s son Matt. “He would definitely take this moment with great emotion because he loved it here.”
In 81 career games with Weber State, over three seasons, Sojourner pulled down 1,143 rebounds and scored 1,563 points.
Sojourner still holds the team records for career rebounds (1,143), single-season rebounds (411) and single-game rebounds (25) and the team and Big Sky Conference record for career rebounding average with 14.1 per game.
Sojourner helped lead the Wildcats to back-to-back-to-back Big Sky titles during his three-year career. The Wildcats’ best season with Sojourner came in the 1968-69 season, when Weber State finished 15-0 in conference games and defeated Seattle 75-73 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The win over Seattle was the first NCAA Tournament win ever by a Big Sky Conference team.
Sojourner went on to play for four seasons in the American Basketball Association from 1971 to 1975, pulling down 1,488 rebounds and scoring 1,868 points. He later played professionally in Italy, where his jersey was later retired by his former team Arrigoni Rieti. He returned to Italy twice to serve as a coach and was in Rieti as a coach in 2005 when he was killed in a car accident.
During the ceremony, Johnson took a moment to recount his memories of Sojourner.
“He was an outstanding man both on and off the court,” Johnson said. “Since his first moments here from Philadelphia it was an honor to both know him and coach him.”
For the family, it was a moment in which they felt like WSU was a big part of their family, much like how they said Sojourner felt.
“To my father, he always looked at his time with all the people here and felt like he had a home in Ogden,” said Matt Sojourner. “Today it felt like Weber State took a moment to come forward and say to us that we are family here, just like him.”
Sojourner’s jersey is the first jersey to be retired by the Weber State basketball program, and the second for the athletic department this year following the retirement of football player Jamie Martin’s jersey.
Michael Grennell contributed to this story.