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One of a kind

In the annals of Forest Grove High School, Katie Karl stands alone.

By the time Karl — formerly Katie Smith — graduated in 2000, she accomplished something no other Viking had ever done. And no one has equaled or surpassed her since.Katie Karl, formerly Katie Smith, dribbles the ball upcourt during her basketball career at Forest Grove High, where she was a four-time all-conference selection.

A star in basketball, softball and soccer, Karl added football to her list of sports during her final two years of high school and graduated with a total of 14 varsity letters. For her accomplishments, Karl will be inducted this fall into Forest Grove’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The ceremony is slated for Saturday, Sept. 28 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club.

“I just know that she’s well-deserving,” longtime Vikings softball coach Ron Thompson said. “I’m proud of her. I’m glad she’s in.”

Growing up in Cornelius as the second daughter of Dwight and Janet Smith, Katie played everything she could, starting with soccer in her elementary school years. Over the years, she added basketball, then track and field, and eventually softball in middle school. Older sister Aimee — with whom she shared a varsity basketball season at Forest Grove when Aimee was a senior and Katie was a freshman — played basketball and ran track.

Katie upped the sports activity to another level, though, in the Smith household.

“But I would say I was more the athletic junkie compared to her,” said Karl, who now lives in Snohomish, Wash. “She liked sports, but I lived them. Summer softball, summer basketball, any camp I could get into, any summer team I could get on — I was all about it. My poor parents, they were really good troopers with that.”

By the time she enrolled at the high school, Karl was ready for her turn. She had watched her older sister play high school sports before her, which made her anticipate the coming of her own time in the Vikings’ maroon and gold.

“I can remember being like, ‘Oh, I just want to wear your jersey,’ when she’d be getting ready for the games,” Karl said.

As a freshman, Karl made an immediate impression, becoming a starter for the Vikings in all three sports and earning honorable mention All-Pac-8 Conference honors in both basketball and softball. That was just the beginning, as Karl would go on to earn all-league awards in every season except for that first one on the soccer pitch, where she was a hard-charging center midfielder.

Interestingly, Karl’s Forest Grove softball career — where she perhaps shined brightest early on, becoming a first team all-league pick in 1998 — almost did not happen. Karl originally turned out for the track team but then reconsidered. If only she could have done both. Karl’s basketball coach, Greg Evers, also used to coach sprints for the track team and believed Karl would have made an outstanding hurdler.

But her track career was not meant to be.

“I just found myself looking at the softball field the whole time,” Karl said about that first track practice her freshman year.

She found herself asking Thompson if she could still join the team.

“So we let her come and play,” Thompson said. “She had one practice with us, and it was very obvious that she was going to be a softball player.”

Karl excelled as the Vikings’ third baseman — where her quick hands were quite an asset on defense — also earning second team all-league honors as a junior and honorable mention status as a senior in addition to her success in her earlier years. She was a bulwark on a squad that made the state playoffs in each of her four years.

In Karl, Thompson had a player who could deal with the pressures of playing in the “hotbox,” as he described it, in a position where the ball can come flying down the third-base line furiously. In fact, Thompson noted, he believed Karl was one of the best at the position the program has produced.

“She could hit, she could bunt, and she could steal bases,” Thompson said. “And in softball, to have an all-around player like that is so important, because a lot of times you get in these pitching duels, and you gotta have kids that can put the pressure on that pitcher and get into scoring position on second base. And Katie was one of the kids that could do that.”

Across her high school career, softball was Smith’s most successful sport in terms of consistency with those four playoff appearances. The Vikings lost in the first round each season, but two of those defeats came in single-run games. Her senior year, the team lost just six games the entire season and all of them to ranked teams, including a tough 2-1 defeat to eventual league rival Century in the playoffs.

But basketball was probably the sport Karl loved most, if she had to choose. At about 5-foot-5, Karl was the Vikings’ point guard, and she graduated with 748 career points and posted impressive single-season totals in steals (74, sophomore) and assists (72, senior). When she was a freshman, Evers said, Karl already was ready to go from a physical standpoint, as she was fast and strong, a solid ball handler who could also shoot.

Karl played with considerable intensity, and she also was a tenacious defender, a player on both the pitch and the court who took pride in giving her all on both sides of the ball.

“Defensively, she was kind of a ball hawk. She had pretty good savvy as well,” Evers said. “She had a lot of steals, so defensively she was very good. And then offensively, she could shoot from deep, she could drive to the basket strong, she could pass the ball. She had the whole package.”

That included the willingness to step up and take big shots with the game on the line. Over the course of her career, Karl had a penchant for beating the buzzer, making good on several shots that either sent games to overtime or won them outright.

Karl remembers one in particular from her earlier high school years. The team was down by a point or two, and during a timeout, Evers turned to Karl and asked if she was ready to win the game.

“I can remember being like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a lot of pressure,’ but at the same time, I wanted the ball just as much,” Karl said. “I liked not necessarily having the pressure, but having the opportunity to win.”

So Evers drew up a play, and Karl sank a three-pointer for the victory.

Karl’s career on the hard court culminated her senior season. As one of three team captains, she led the senior-laden Vikings — there were seven of them on that 1999-2000 squad — to the league championship and a state tournament berth at the Chiles Center in Portland. The league title was the first for the program since 1986 and kicked off a string of success, as Forest Grove repeated the next season and added another conference crown in 2005.

“A lot of us were really close friends and we kind of knew each other’s way on the court, so by the time our senior year came, we were just ready,” Karl said about her class. “We finally all were on the varsity team, and we just knew it was going to be a good year.”

In fact, it was a banner year for the Vikings in girls team sports, as Forest Grove had made its first-ever state playoff appearance in soccer and earned a state berth in softball in the spring.

And then there was football. Karl became the program’s first female placekicker her junior season. Turning out for football initially started out as a joke between herself and Evers, Karl said. Then-coach Mike McCabe told her to try out the summer before her junior year started, and she assumed part of the team’s PAT and field goal kicking duties during her two varsity seasons.

That all led to quite a bit of attention when she was chosen as homecoming queen in the fall of her senior year. The media could not resist the lure of the school’s queen also playing football, and radio, print and broadcast outlets chronicled her story, making for a busy homecoming Friday as Karl had to manage interviews, school, and the homecoming parade, game and halftime duties all on the same day.

“It just seems like that’s something I would read about, not something that I did, like in my life now,” Karl said.

Now 13 years removed from graduating from Forest Grove, Karl is married to Mike Karl and is mother to daughter Jaysie, 5, and son Evan, 2. Limited by an injury to her left knee that was sustained during her senior season of high school soccer, Karl started her college basketball career at Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma, Wash., but opted to stop playing. She transferred to Pacific University and graduated in 2004 with a degree in exercise science.

She has worked in a physical therapy clinic and as a personal trainer, and her goal is to eventually return to school for physical therapy.

As for her school record of 14 letters, that mark has not yet been surpassed.

Maybe it never will.

“I just think she’s well-deserving of this Hall of Fame honor,” Thompson said. “I think she’s one of those kids that advanced the cause of Title IX, that gives girls a chance to compete in high school, and she took advantage of it.

“Whoever passed Title IX could look down at girls like Katie and say, ‘Well, this is why we did it.’”



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