The following story originally appeared in the October 19, 1998 issue of Sports Illustrated:
Q: How come nobody said a word last week after the Chatfield (Colo.) High homecoming queen accepted a single white rose at halftime of the football game, locked arms with the king and then ripped off her satin sash and sprinted into the players' locker room?
A: She still had two quarters to play.
Katie Hnida (pronounced NYE-duh) is 17, with long blond hair, melt-your-heart blue eyes, and legs that won't quit kicking. This season she's perfect: 23 for 23 on extra points, 3 for 3 on field goals and 1 for 1 in homecoming queen elections.
Among the best sports moments of the 1990s, this one has to be in the top 10: Katie tearing off her helmet at the end of the first half, taking her place among other members of the homecoming court in their dresses and high heels, being announced as queen, wriggling the sash on over her shoulder pads, waving thanks to everybody, smiling for the photographers and sprinting to the dressing room. "I only had a minute," she says of her coronation.
Is this a great time or what? We're past the 1970s, when girls had two options in sports: cheerleader or pep squad. We're past the '80s, when girls had two options in life: to be a jock or a girl. Now we're into the Katie Era, when a young lady can kick the winning field goal on Saturday afternoon and look drop-dead in her spaghetti-strap number on Saturday night. "I know I looked gross at halftime," Katie says. "No makeup or anything. But I'm a football player. How else am I going to look?"
Actually, the only way anyone on the other team can guess that the 5'9", 135-pound Katie is a girl is by the ponytail that runs out from beneath her helmet and down her back. One time, as a freshman, she got flattened after a PAT by a massive nosetackle, who ended up on top of her. They both opened their eyes at the same time, only it was the nosetackle who screamed, "You're a girl!"
Not that the guys on the Chatfield High team seem to notice much. "I don't mind when they burp, fart and spit around me," she says. "It lets me know they think of me as their teammate."
Another first: players thanked for impersonating water buffalo.
Katie's life can be strange. After one game last year the Chatfield players and their opponents were exchanging postgame handshakes when a hulk on the other team stopped Katie and asked, "Do you have another number besides 40 I could possibly have?" She didn't bite, but it still goes down as the single best pickup line in high school football history.
The only downside of the whole thing is that Katie has to shower and dress in the girls' locker room, away from the rest of the team. "Sometimes we'll win a big game and I can hear all the guys whooping it up," she says, "and I want to get in there with them."
Other than that, Katie "gets to be who she wants to be," says her mother, Anne, who never had that chance in high school. "I kept stats for the boys' basketball team," she says. Katie, meanwhile, has a 3.2 grade point average, writes and edits for the school newspaper, plays soccer in the spring, doesn't drink, won't smoke, can take a lick and kicks like a mule.
"Wearing a little skirt and jumping around after touchdowns isn't quite the same," she says. "I want the competition. I want to be part of the team. Girls ask me all the time, 'What's it like to be around all these gorgeous guys all the time?' They have no idea. I've seen these guys break down and cry in the huddle, and I've seen them so incredibly happy after a big win. I wouldn't trade anything for what I've had, being part of this team."
Yeah, she'd even trade the sash. "Ten years from now, nobody's going to be impressed that I was homecoming queen," she says, "but they might think it was cool I could kick a 40-yard field goal."
Katie, who has already booted a 35-yarder, has this crazy dream that would make things even cooler. She wants to become the only Division I woman football player next season. Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel already has asked her to walk on. Me, I'd bet my last pair of hose on her.
One thing, no guy's ever going to have to give Katie his letter jacket. She's got her own, thanks. "I guess what I want to show is that it's O.K. to be athletic and feminine."
Hey, tell it to Carl Lewis.
If nothing else, Katie Hnida gave us a rare moment, in which the homecoming queen walked off the field after the game and had little girls come up to her, saying, "Chin strap?"
"I don't mind when they burp and spit around me," Katie says. "It tells me they think of me as their teammate."
Issue date: Oct. 19, 1998
Rick Reilly, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year nine times.