Thirty young athletes showed up for the NFL Pepsi Punt, Pass and Kick competition on Aug. 29 at the Huntersville Athletic Park.
The participants, ages 8-15, were competing to advance to the regionals and perhaps the finals, where they would get to show their skills in front of thousands on the field at a Panthers home game in December.
Before the competition, the players loosened up and practiced kicking and passing. Huntersville resident Carter May, 8, was working on his passing skills, trying to calm his first-time jitters. “I’ve played flag football but never done anything like this,” he said.
Ben Benshoof, assistant athletic coordinator for Huntersville Parks and Recreation, called the contestants together to explain the rules. “You only have one attempt in each skill,” he said.
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The goal is to make the greatest distance with the most accuracy, aiming for the straight line before them. Explaining how accuracy is subtracted from distance, Benshoof said, “if your ball goes 50 yards, but the ball lands 20 yards to the right or left of the center line, your overall score would be 30 yards,” said Benshoof.
The competition is divided into two groups, boys and girls. The participants are then separated into five age groups; 6-7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15. Only five of the groups had competitors.
Huntersville resident Emma Rombough, 12, and Cornelius resident Hannah Browning, 12, the only girls, were competing in the 12-13 age group. Emma said she plays several sports and is on her middle school volleyball team but had never played football.
The girls were in the passing stage when Hannah went first, scoring 33.4 feet. Emma bested her with a throw of 44.3 feet, a strong indication of who would win.
Carter May had been doing pretty well in the 8-9 age group until he came to the kicking competition. Mooresville resident Will Googins, 9, wearing a Panthers jersey, was ahead of him in the rotation. Will’s booming kick scored 59 feet 5 inches, putting the pressure on Carter and the rest in his age group.
Carter caught the top of the ball on his attempt, sending the ball to the right and down, only earning an 11-feet-8-inch score for kicking. “He just tried too hard,” said Benshoof, “but he is young and can try again next year.”
Benshoof said that Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department has been hosting the competition, with the support of the Carolina Panthers, for 10 years. For the past two years, the Parks and Recreation Departments of Cornelius and Davidson have partnered with Huntersville to organize the free event.
Both Emma and Will won for their age groups and will advance to the regionals. Ethan Kowalski,11, Trevor Kowalski, 13, and Camden Lewis, 14, won their age groups, to advance as well. If they win at the regionals in October, they will advance to finals, where they will get to compete on an actual NFL playing field.
Emma said that she was excited about advancing, but she will probably practice a little more next time. “It was fun. I just started practicing this morning, and I won,” she said.
Marty Price is a freelance writer: email@example.com
For information about programs offered by the Huntersville Parks and Recreation Department, go to http://www.huntersville.org/Departments/ParksRecreation.aspx. For more on the NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competition, go to www.nflppk.com