ELIZABETHTON — Give Christine Hardin a game, even one designed for the boys, and she will find a way to be good at it.
By the time she leaves Elizabethton High School, Hardin will likely be remembered as the most versatile girl athlete in school history — and that tag may apply across Northeast Tennessee as well.
Soccer is Hardin’s best sport. Let the senior forward have the ball facing the net, and the goalkeeper better be ready for legal assault.
Recently Hardin scored the 100th goal of her high school career, and she is closing in on the school record of 125. So if soccer was the only thing she did, Hardin would still stand out among the athletic crowd. But her body of work has much more depth.
She played varsity basketball as a freshman and sophomore. Also, she ran cross country those two years. She made it to the state cross country meet twice, and was part of a state tournament basketball team.
As a freshman she ran track, competing in the 3,200, 1,600, 800 and 400 events. In middle school, she was a sprinter.
And this spring she will compete in her third season of varsity tennis, where she will play either No. 1 or No. 2 singles.
It all adds up to a pretty good resume. But Hardin has a signature on another sport few girls ever even consider: football. She has been the Cyclones’ varsity place-kicker for three seasons.
With all of that on her plate, surely the grades suffer? No, Hardin carries a 4.0 GPA, and plans a college career in pre-med or pre-law.
Who could blame her if one of her daily goals during the soccer-football season is a little extra sleep?
“Usually I want to come home and take a nap, so I have the ability to focus on what I have do,” said Hardin. “Usually I’m just exhausted.”
Her athletic prowess starts with soccer, where Hardin has helped the Lady Cyclones to a record of 5-2-2. They made it to the Class A-AA sectional last year, and Hardin said taking one more step is important this year.
“My goal is definitely to make it one step further,” said Hardin. “I feel like we could have won the sectional last year. This year, it’s a definite goal to win.”
Elizabethton battled to a 1-1 tie with Greeneville, which figures to be the biggest obstacle to a region title and another home sectional game.
Hardin said she started playing soccer when she was four or five years old.
“I guess I liked it right away,” she said. “My mom kept me in it, and it grew on me.”
When she was eight or nine years old, Hardin said she began to realize she was pretty good. She eventually tried travel soccer, and had more success.
By the time she got to high school, her ability to score was well known. She immediately started finding the net.
“I felt comfortable, and I wasn’t scared,” said Hardin. “I think it helped a lot because I could relate to my teammates. I wasn’t scared to shoot the ball.”
As the goals began to pile up through the years, Hardin didn’t realize a milestone was nearing.
“I had no clue I was even that close to 100,” said Hardin. “The night when they announced it, it was kind of hard to believe.”
Lady Cyclones head coach Bill McClay said, “She wasn’t aware how close she was. That speaks to the way she conducts herself in the team. She just leads by action.”
Hardin has 102 career goals, and could still catch Samantha McClay’s school record.
“They are different players,” said McClay. “Samantha was more comfortable with her back to the goal, but Christine is more dangerous when she gets it facing the goal.
“It’s an incredible thing to have two prolific scorers like that in the space of 10 years.”
Hardin said all of her goals depended on the team, communication, and the selflessness of everybody.
“We’ve grown as a team, and I think that’s why we do so well,” she said.
As for football, the Cyclones desperately needed someone to put the ball between the uprights a couple of years ago. Hardin got the offer, and has been making the most of it ever since.
“I think the biggest thing for her is she has been so consistent for us,” said head football coach Shawn Witten. “She is so consistent kicking extra points. What we’ve been able to get out of her, year in and year out, is outstanding.”
This year Hardin is 9 of 10 on extra points, and 1 of 1 on field goals. Witten said the players see the effort and practice time Hardin puts in, and they have welcomed her on the team.
“She really is a blessing to have as part of the program,” said Witten. “She has worked hard and tried to fit in. She understands her role. She is pulling double duty, and has used her time wisely.”
Football has definitely been a experience Hardin will treasure.
“It is probably the best thing that has happened in my high school career,” she said. “I knew I was going to play soccer for four years, but I never expected to have a chance to kick a football in front of thousands of people.
“I still get nervous, but I just try not to think about it. I try to calm myself, and think about the consequences of missing.”
She also dreams about nailing that game-winning kick.
“I’ve thought about that a lot,” said Hardin. “It helps me get serious in practice. If the opportunity comes, I need to have my mind right.”
Being good enough to succeed at the high school level in different sports just comes down to repetition, said Hardin.
“I guess growing up, where I always played something, I was just used to practicing or having to go somewhere for a game or something,” said Hardin.
McClay said Hardin’s athletic achievements are quite impressive.
“There are very few athletes, and you can extend this to the guys, who can step into any sport and be more than adequate, contributing to every team,” said McClay. “She’s the kind of person you want on a team. She’s good in the classroom and a good teammate. She does what you ask, and then even more than that. She takes responsibility on her shoulders, and she’s fun to have around.”
As for college, Hardin said academics may determine where she attends. College soccer is not out of the question, she said. Neither is football.
“I’ve thought about kicking,” said Hardin. “I know it would definitely be harder.”