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COLUMN

FireHawks' new kicker rekindling her dream

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Kickoff: Cincinnati at FireHawks, 7:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Coliseum

She wants to be a role model, inspire survivors of sexual violence.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 10:16 am

Katie Hnida would like to blend in with her new Fort Wayne FireHawks teammates and be one of the guys.

She also knows that's unrealistic.

Hnida is the only female on the professional indoor football team, the only player to have published a memoir and the only one to hold a unique record: She was the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I-A football game when she kicked for the University of New Mexico.

She also is well-known nationally for speaking out about the alleged abuse, sexual assault and rape she experienced as part of the University of Colorado football team.

So, yes, it'll be impossible for Hnida to simply blend in as the FireHawks open their season against Cincinnati at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Memorial Coliseum.

Hnida says she'll try to keep using her media attention to help others.

“I work with an organization out of Chicago that promotes female role models for ‘tween' girls,” Hnida said. “It's so cool. I get letters and e-mails and different things from people, including sexual violence survivors. It was an awful thing for me to go through, and I understand what it's like to feel like your life is never going to be normal again, to feel like there's no hope.

“This is part of coming back and reclaiming my dream, reclaiming things, and when I do this, I hope I do this for all survivors.”

Hnida, 28, originally from Littleton, Colo., was looking into a nonprofit work opportunity in Chicago when she discovered the Continental Indoor Football League and felt the pull to rekindle her kicking career. Since graduating, she had played briefly with a semi-pro team in Colorado.

“I stumbled across this league in the Midwest and I thought, ‘How fun, I'd love to come out and kick some footballs,'” Hnida said. “I sent some e-mails and I was impressed with the organization here. It's really cool the way they're rebuilding from the ground up. I really like Coach (Willie) Davis and (owner) Mike Loomis. I thought this seems like an organization I'd really like to be a part of.”

Hnida, who hasn't practiced with the team yet, came in and kicked for Davis and Loomis, and both were impressed.

It doesn't hurt, of course, that she'll likely generate a little bit more interest in the FireHawks, who are seeking to attract fans who may have been turned off by the struggles of the now defunct Freedom in recent years.

“She's a female kicker, so that creates a little buzz,” Davis said. “But she can kick. Last time I check, most kickers are not physically imposing anyway. … (But) if my team depends on her making six field goals a game, we're in trouble. This is a touchdown game.”

Loomis said he is excited about Hnida's potential impact off the field.

“The main thing is she's a quality human being,” Loomis said. “She'll be a great role model for young people, obviously particularly for young females. And she wants to be involved with youth in our town as a mentor.”

Hnida wrote a book, “Still Kicking: My Dramatic Journey as the First Woman to Play Division One College Football,” and has spoken out about her experiences at Colorado, which she calls the low point of her life, and her redemption as a trailblazer as a walk-on kicker at New Mexico.

After initially keeping quiet about her problems at Colorado, she went public and said she had been verbally and physically abused by teammates and raped by one. She chose not to reveal her attackers and no charges were filed. Then-coach Gary Barnett spoke out critically against her.

After transferring to New Mexico in 2002, Hnida said she was treated respectfully and as part of the team. That sports camaraderie still holds a lot of attraction, she said.

“Outside of the negative experience I had at CU, my favorite thing has been being with the team, having teammates,” she said. “It actually can be really fun to have a woman around. I was kind of the team mom down at New Mexico. It was fun.”

Hnida said the chance to revive her sports career drew her to a fledgling indoor team in Fort Wayne.

“It's the love of the game, that's it,” she said. “And I love what I get to do as a kicker in terms of opportunities to give back to others. The idea that I can inspire someone else humbles me and blows my mind.”

Hnida seems like the type of person who never stops fighting to survive and thrive. In that regard, she's a perfect fit for Fort Wayne's indoor football franchise.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. E-mail Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.