Originally created 12/25/98

All-State list boasts first female



RIVERDALE, Ga. -- Tonya Butler, reluctant trailblazer that she is, nonetheless has become accustomed to breaking new ground in the area of female football players.

"I just want to be known as a kicker," she said earlier this year, "not a girl kicker."

Maybe a spot on the all-state team will push her toward that goal.

Butler, the Riverdale Raiders' senior kicker, became the first female ever selected to the all-state team picked by the Georgia Sportswriters Association. She earned a spot in Class AAA.

"It's surprising," Butler said. "That's like, awesome."

She was one of many bright spots for Riverdale, which posted the best season in school history at 13-1, losing to Peach County in the state semifinals.

Butler had ample opportunity to prove herself with Riverdale's high-scoring offense. She converted 64-of-65 extra point attempts -- the only miss came on a poor snap -- and hit 7-of-13 field goals, her longest coming from 39 yards out.

She finished as the school's second leading career scorer, her 165 points trailing only teammate Michael Leslie.

In the semifinals at the Georgia Dome, Riverdale coach George Spencer said he would have let Butler try a game-tying field goal from as far as 60 yards in the game's waning moments if the Raiders had gotten in range.

"She hit one from 50 in warmups, and had plenty to spare on that one," Spencer said.

"I was so ready for it," Butler said. "I was standing over there, and the coaches were saying, `OK, when Tonya ties the game, we're going to do this and this.' That was a really good feeling."

Butler spent her career under the bright lights of national media attention. Her presence meant Spencer spent nearly as much time as a publicist as he did as football coach.

"She's really handled everything fine," the coach said. "She knew going into this year there was going to be a lot of media attention. I really think she was prepared for it, and she handled it wonderfully."

"I think in Georgia I got everybody's respect," said Butler, the starting kicker at Riverdale for three seasons. "At first, everybody was asking questions like `How do you feel about wearing all those pads?' Now, they're asking kicker questions."

During Riverdale's playoff run, Butler achieved some additional notoriety because her brother Tony, a linebacker at Georgia Southern, was in a postseason run of his own. The walk-on wound up starting in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs because of injuries.

"I didn't like the media playing me over Tony," Tonya said. "There's no way to compare being a kicker with playing every play."