KATIE GEORGE has been accomplishing goals for herself all her life. Compete with her brothers. Play college volleyball. Win a beauty pageant. Make it in TV sports. And ask the right questions.
By Steve Kaufman | Photos by Danny Alexander
Tim George sits in his Plainview home, watching a football or basketball game with his daughter, Katie.
As the first half is coming to an end, Tim pauses the show, and just before Samantha Ponder or Tracy Wolfson, Kaylee Hartung or Allie LaForce gets to interview one of the coaches, Katie has to tell her father what she would ask if she were conducting the interview.
“Then he’ll play it, and we’ll see what the reporter on TV asks and compare our lines of questioning,” Katie said. “Are they similar? Did I totally miss it? Should I have gone the route she did? Or did I think of something different or, hopefully, even better than the questions she asked?”
This is more than just a playful father-and-daughter game at home. This is a form of intense career training.
Katie George. The name may be coming into focus for you. Yes, she was the All-American volleyball player at the University of Louisville. And yes, she was Miss Kentucky in the Miss USA Pageant a couple of years ago.
SO WHY IS SHE PLAYING Miss Sideline Reporter with her dad on Saturday afternoons? Because, after her sports and pageant successes, George is following her true rest-of-her-life passion: becoming a well-known TV sports personality.
George, who wrapped up her sports career at Louisville in late 2015 with an ACC championship and All-American honors, is just finishing her first year as a reporter at WDRB 41 Louisville, the local Fox affiliate.
And, in a lifelong pattern that has always driven her, she wants to be the best she can be. Having to perform for her father is only an extension of what she’s been doing most of her life. (The halftime drill, by the way, was her idea. “It’s such a great practicing tool,” she said. “My biggest fear would be asking a well-respected coach a dumb question and not being taken seriously.”)
She’s been having to prove herself ever since she trailed after her older brothers, Timmy and Charlie, in backyard pick-up games.
“My dad always made them include me, and they hated it,” she recalled. “Why does she have to play? She’s a girl! She’s not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough. That was drilled into my head, even as a toddler.”
So, she practiced in the yard late into the evening with her father, tossing free throws, throwing a baseball, after everyone else went home for dinner. Eventually, she was throwing perfect spirals, dribbling between her legs, and her brothers were picking her for their teams.
In the house, her brothers dominated the remote. “It was either watching Sports Center or I could go play outside,” she said. “So one day, I saw Erin Andrews and a light bulb went off in my head. I loved sports, I loved talking about sports, I loved watching TV. You could do that too, Katie!”
From then on, her career ambitions never changed: to be a sports broadcaster or maybe become a sideline reporter for ESPN or another major network.
She wrote her goals down every day in a ledger. “I started doing that even as a kid,” she said. “If you write down your goals, you have to see them every day, and you’re constantly reminded of what you’re working for.”
In high school, she said, “I wrote down, every day, ‘I want to be the starting setter for the UofL volleyball team as a freshman!’ ” By the fifth game of her college freshman season, she had made that goal.
But she didn’t start out playing volleyball. “Softball was my first love,” she said. When she was nine, Holy Spirit School needed one more player to fill out its volleyball team. “I said I’d do it, though I’d never played volleyball before. I fell in love with the game.”
She kept playing softball, and basketball, field hockey and tennis, until she got to Assumption High School, where Ron Kordes was the volleyball coach (in addition to heading the program at Kentucky Indiana Volleyball Academy – the renowned KIVA).
“Ron said to me, ‘If you want to play at the college level, we need to make you a setter.’ But when you’re the setter, you’re the only one. If you get hurt there’s no backup plan. That’s why Ron didn’t let me play other sports in high school, for fear of my getting hurt.”
Katie turned her laser focus to the sport she loved, developing her skills as a volleyball setter. It fit her Type A personality.
“It fits who I am as a person. In softball, I played shortstop and center field, but I didn’t have the ability to control the outcome of every single play. As a setter, you’re the quarterback on the court, the extension of your coach, the one calling the shots. You’re the playmaker.
“I loved being the one people relied on to make things happen. I could touch the ball and help dictate the outcome every single play, every single point. I need that control. I need to know that I’m accomplishing something, that I’m contributing.”
IT LED TO A SCHOLARSHIP offer from the University of Louisville, the school she’d grown up rooting for, under coach Anne Kordes (Ron’s daughter).
With that same Type A determination, she was soon starting on the varsity team. And, with her other goal firmly in mind, she was majoring in journalism.
She secured summer internships at WLKY and, one summer, at CBS Sports in New York. That same summer, she went to Croatia with the U.S. college national team that won a silver medal.
At the time, she was also entertaining a suggestion that she try out for the Miss Kentucky USA pageant.
“At first, I said no,” she recalled. “I’m just a sports girl at heart. Besides, I felt there were negative aspects that go along with pageantry – the feeling that it’s superficial, unserious, only about looks.”
But, while at CBS, she did some research and found that other TV broadcasters had gone the pageant route. Allie LaForce of CBS had been Miss Teen USA in 2005, as well as a college basketball player at Ohio University.
Maybe this was not a bad thing for George to have on her resume.
ONE MAJOR HURDLE was getting her parents behind the idea. “My mom, Annie, hesitated at first, but she came on board. My dad was against it, but finally he said it was okay, though he didn’t want me to spend any money on it,” she said. “It turned out, I only had to buy a bathing suit. He asked, ‘Is it a one-piece?’ I said, ‘Dad, what year are you living in?’ ”
It was a whirlwind few months. She recalled feeling in over her head when she first walked into the pageant hall at the Ursuline Arts Center.
“I was wearing my Chuck Taylors, my hair in a bun, leggings and a little volleyball shirt,” she said. “These girls were all decked out, hair, eyelashes, you name it. I thought, ‘Whoa, this is no longer the Louisville volleyball locker room.’ ”
But she won, and entered into a full-time job of representing Miss Kentucky at events, even as she was getting up at 6 a.m. to go to practice and then to class, before getting dressed up at night to go to a cancer research event.
She also went into full-time getting-ready-for-pageant mode.
She went on a diet, and practiced walking in heels, smiling and answering interview questions. She also had a pageant trainer who tried to slim her down as her volleyball strength trainer was trying to beef her up.
“Finally, my pageant trainer asked me, ‘What makes you feel the most sexy?’ And I said, ‘Being a volleyball player.’
“So he said, ‘Okay, your muscles are what make you confident, and you need to be who you are. You need to go out onto the stage and say, “This is what a strong, athletic, beautiful woman looks like – not what a skinny, starving body looks like.” ’
“After all, when the pageant was over, I still had to come back and be a Division I athlete again.”
The pageant was in Baton Rouge, La., that summer, and George made it into the Top Ten.
It may have been the best outcome for her. The winner signs a contract and it becomes a full-time job. She moves to New York the very next day.
“If I had won, I couldn’t have come back to play volleyball my senior year, be part of an ACC championship team, become ACC Player of the Year and be named All-American.”
In addition to being the most rewarding sports season of her life, it also validated her image of herself.
“Anyone who knows me knows that, at heart, I’m a Louisville volleyball player, not a Miss Kentucky. That sort of embarrassed me; it’s not who I am or how I want to be perceived.”
After college, she accepted a job offer with WDRB Sports. She said she was impressed by the station’s hiring of former newspaper sportswriters Rick Bozich and Eric Crawford.
“A big part of this industry is based on being able to write, having content that’s well-written and well-reported,” she explained. “Learning under those two was an opportunity I felt I shouldn’t pass up.”
She also felt she had to overcome some preconceptions about herself.
“I knew that being inexperienced and getting a job in the 49th-largest market right out of college would turn some heads,” she admitted. “I work with people who graduated from powerful journalism programs at Syracuse, Missouri and Western Kentucky. So, I felt I really had to prove myself – that I was not some girl who did a pageant and happened to be good at volleyball, and now wants to play TV star.”
HER JOB CALLS for her to work three days a week in news, two in sports. She appreciates the positive feedback she’s received for various news stories, but “I’m more into stories where I get to play HORSE with the Harlem Globetrotters, or go through the women’s program at UofL with Bobby Petrino – kicking field goals and running routes with the other women.
“I think people get to see a side of my personality: having fun in my element – and my element is playing sports.”
She said she’s picking up a lot of the behind-the-scenes work, like what it takes to get a story onto the air every day at 4 p.m. “But I know my heart is in sports, it’s what I’m passionate about and knowledgeable about. I’ve been through it – the workouts, the grueling hours, the way athletes have to juggle their time.”
And so her gaze is fixed on that point, a few years down the road, when she’ll be asking John Calipari what went wrong in the first half, or asking Jim Harbaugh why he settled for a field goal from the 10.
She idolizes Robin Roberts, “a pioneer in sports as a female – and she parlayed her sports background into news with ‘Good Morning America.’ ”
And Diane Sawyer, “who can do one-on-one interviews with sports people, politicians, world leaders, entertainers – anyone!”
And Ellen DeGeneres. “I’d love to have a talk show, have fun, laugh, help people, show my personality.”
“I’d like to be on the national stage in 10 years,” said George. Then she paused. “I’d like to be on the national stage tomorrow.”