It might not be the normal reaction for most 13-year-old girls, but when K.P. Ronda sees a ball rolling toward her, she kicks it.
Which is what the Heritage Middle School eighth-grader did a few weeks ago, except the ball wasn't round like she's used to kicking. It was a football.
The ball had gotten loose from football practice, so the soccer star picked it up and booted it back where it belonged.
Moments later she was approached by a football coach and asked if she ever thought about playing football. K.P. shrugged it off at first, but when two coaches visited her in the school gym soon after and asked her to kick for them, she thought, "Why not?"
"Everybody wanted me to do it," she said following Heritage's 20-8 win over Chattanooga Valley on Thursday. "It was something I could try, and I thought it would be fun. I love it because it's not something every girl gets to do."
Though Heritage coaches try to protect their petite kicker, it doesn't always work. Following K.P.'s first extra-point try, her kick was blocked and, in the action that followed, she was flattened. Her reaction, to people that know her, was typical K.P.
"The hit I took was a big mistake," she said. "It was my first field goal and everybody was confused. The kick got blocked and I got tackled. From then on I didn't know what happened and everybody was asking me why he hit me. I got up and said, 'It's all right. I've been hit harder on the soccer field.'"
Assistant coach Travis Allen, who persuaded K.P. to give football a try, has experience with female kickers. He was coaching at Grace Academy when that program utilized one, so when he saw K.P.'s natural ability, he saw potential.
"When I went to the gym to get her to kick, nine times out of 10 she hit the back wall, so we had her put on some pads the following day and she's kicked well ever since," Mr. Allen said.
"She's only gotten a couple of opportunities with extra points, but she puts it farther than they expect it," he said. "She's given us great field position (on kickoffs), and we even recovered a fumble once and returned it for a touchdown off one of her kicks."
Her father, Russ Ronda, was a little leery at first of the idea of his daughter being out on a football field. But he's always wanted his daughter to be active, so after thinking about it, he gave her the OK.
"I wanted her to do something in addition to soccer this year," he said, "but when I said something else, football wasn't exactly what I had in mind. She's done great, though, and she enjoys just being a part of the team."
K.P. isn't sure if she will try out for the high school team next year, but she isn't ruling out playing at the next level.
"I kind of want to, but the high school team has a kicker who is very good, so I might wait a year," she said.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...