The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

The student news publication of Libertyville High School

Drops of Ink

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Kickin’ it with Kuz

Circa 1998, when most of the senior class was born, history was made here at Libertyville High School. Kristen Kuceyeski, or “Kuz” was the first female to play football under the friday night lights.This admired English teacher also remains as the only female to play, and even holds a school record. Kuz began playing football as a freshman in 1998 and played through her senior year until she graduated in 2002. Kuz shared that she had always wanted to play football, as she grew up in a very football-oriented family: “I grew up thinking girls could play football.”

Kuz wanted to play football in middle school, but her main sport was soccer, so she stuck with that for the time being. She also played soccer all throughout high school, as it was the opposite season as football, and won the state championship for soccer in 2001 with current LHS teacher Mrs. Joyce Amann.

I remember helping her practice her field goal kicks. She put in a lot of work, time and dedication into both of the sports she played (football and soccer),” said Mrs. Amann.

Kuz played on the freshman team, sophomore team, and, during her junior and senior years, the varsity team. She was the kicker during her four years and excelled greatly in this position.

“The only position I could really play was kicker mainly because I was really small, so I could get hurt or injured; plus, I don’t really have very good hand-eye coordination to catch the ball,” said Kuz.

To this day, Kuz holds the school record for the most points made by a kicker due to her accuracy. She attributed her accuracy to her strong skills in soccer.

Even though Kuz had great success in her football career, it did not come without struggle. She took much criticism and was called many nasty names by her peers, mainly because her dad was the head coach.

Kuz’s dad, Randy Kuceyeski, grew up in Ohio, played football at Northwestern University, and coached at Libertyville High School for 34 years while also teaching P.E.. Coach Kuz never directly coached his daughter’s position in order to avoid accusations of special treatment; however, she did still receive that criticism.

Coach Kuz explained that people initially thought it was a novelty that would wear off, but that “no one gave it a second thought once they saw how she could play.”

Kuz stated, “yes, my dad was the overall coach, but he wasn’t the one making the decision of whether or not I should be starting, so that kind of took the pressure off of him.”

Kuz shared that her peers said things like “you only get to play because of your dad.” In reality, this was not true. According to IHSA, if a sport is not offered for both genders, either gender can join the existing team.

Kuz did admit that if her dad wasn’t the coach, she probably wouldn’t have played.

“People are mean and they’re harsh and having my dad as the head coach prevented a lot of kids or other players from doing things that could’ve been a lot meaner or physically harmful to me, so having my dad as the coach kind of gave me a pathway to be able to do it, but then I proved myself on my own,” she said.

Coach Kuz did his absolute best not to give his daughter special treatment. The team rule was that your hair cannot hang out of your helmet, so Kuz was forced to cut her hair above her ears, just like the rest of the boys had to do. Coach Kuz explained that he told his daughter,  “I’m not gonna change the rules for you. If you wanna be on this team, you’re gonna have to prove that you wanna be on it.” Kuz admired that her dad was fair regardless of her gender: “I wanted to prove myself on my own merit,” said Kuz.

Kuz did all of the lifting and conditioning with the boys and during her freshman year, she did all of the tackle drills as well. She also went away to all-boys kicking camps in the summer. She was serious about playing football, and that showed through her performance and determination.

Kuz’s mom, Martha Kuceyeski, shared her worry for her daughter and, as a high school counselor, she was nervous what girls would think about another girl playing football. She shared that one day she was in the car with her daughter, voicing her opinion, and Kuz said, “Mom, I’ve wanted to play football my whole life.” At that moment, Kuz’s mom knew that’s exactly what she would do.

At the start of her football career, the team was a bit hesitant or cautious, but eventually she felt like she had 50 big brothers watching out for her. Some girls at school did make fun of Kuz and called her names like “dyke” or “lesbian,” she said. Girls also accused her of only playing football to receive attention.

“That’s to be expected. When you’re doing something that’s out of the ordinary — and especially as a female, when you’re breaking a stereotype — you have to be ready for that,” shared Kuz.

At the time, Kuz was one of the only females playing football in the state, so she did receive a lot of news coverage. Almost every newspaper wrote a story about her at some point, and NBC did a special on her and another female kicker from Downers Grove. This fueled the fire even more and her peers accused her of only playing football for the attention she received from the news.

“If you had known what I had to go through every day, you’d know I wouldn’t do this just for that,” said Kuz. “It’s too much.”

Not only did Kuz get made fun of at school for her unusual choice in sport, but some teams targeted her and purposely hit her because she was a girl, even though you can’t hit the kicker on an extra point or a field goal without receiving a penalty. She also did not do kickoffs, because kickers can be tackled during this.

During her freshman year, she was hit in her kicking leg during a game, sprained her ankle, and was on crutches for homecoming. Kuz laughed at this story, as her injury was only minor. She does, however, remember a game against Mundelein her senior year where she was intentionally hit around four times, and her fifty big brothers were very protective of her when this happened.

Being the first girl to play football at LHS, Kuz had to prove herself to the boys. She shared that she’ll never forget her first game as a freshman against New Trier. She not only made all of her extra points, but she also made a field goal, which not many kickers do at the freshman level. Kuz explained that after that game, her teammates felt much more confident and reassured in her abilities.

“The New Trier game was the first night game in LHS history. The lights were just put up and it was really a thrill for me to watch her accomplish her dream and help her team win,” said Coach Kuz.

Despite the struggles she faced, she shared that this was the best experience of her life, and that she would love to see a girl play now. Kuz shared that she has had girls contact her and say, “I’m really interested in playing, and you were a really big role model to me when I was little.” She has encouraged every girl that’s ever mentioned it to her.

“It’s a cool thing to be able to show girls that you can be strong, and you can do these things that perhaps you don’t think you can do. It doesn’t have to be football, it can be anything,” said Kuz.


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The student news publication of Libertyville High School
Kickin’ it with Kuz