Hnida is First Woman to Play Division I-A Football

Dec 25, 2002

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Katie Hnida became the first woman to play in a Division I-A football game when she attempted an extra point Wednesday following a New Mexico touchdown in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Hnida, a walk-on junior, had her kick blocked but by then she had already made history. With her blonde hair in a ponytail, Hnida kicked the ball low allowing a UCLA player to block it.

The 5-foot-9, 150-pound Hnida was on Colorado's roster in 1999 and suited up for the Buffaloes in the Bowl. She joined New Mexico's team before this season.

Hnida got her big chance in New Mexico's biggest game of the season.

"I can replay in my mind seeing that hand block the kick, and that's going to be what I think about before I go to bed tonight," she said. "It's been a very long road to get here and I thought about it many times, but I really had no specific expectations as to what it would be like."

New Mexico coach Rocky Long said Hnida earned the opportunity.

"Katie is a valuable member of our team," Long said. "I think it's a very unusual situation and she's put in a position a lot of times that's very uncomfortable. I made the decision before the game that we were going to let her kick the first extra point."

Long said Hnida's presence has made for some interesting arrangements in the locker room.

"She has to dress different places, she has to join the team after everyone else is dressed," Long said. "She has handled it better than I could have imagined."

Heather Sue Mercer earned a spot on the Duke roster as a walk-on in 1995 but was cut from the team by then-coach Fred Goldsmith before the 1996 season.

Mercer, who graduated in 1998, claimed she was dropped from the team because she is a woman, and said Goldsmith wouldn't let her suit up for games or practice on a scrimmage team against Duke's first-string players.

She won a $2 million sex-discrimination lawsuit, but lost the money on appeal two years later.

Stephanie Weimer tried out for Penn State this summer, but didn't make the team. Louisville and Colorado also have had women kickers on their rosters.

In 1997, Liz Heaston became the first woman to score in a college game, kicking two extra points for Willamette, which was then an NAIA school. Last year, Jacksonville State's Ashley Martin became the first woman in Division I-AA to score, kicking four extra points.

Hnida's try came after teammate Desmar Black returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown that gave New Mexico a 6-3 lead.

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New Mexico's Katie Hnida attempted an extra point Wednesday in the Las Vegas Bowl.