For more than 50 years, there has been a program in place that has encouraged youngsters to show off their football skills. Established in 1961, Punt, Pass & Kick has given tens of thousands of children between the ages of 6 and 15 an opportunity to win trophies and improve their athletic prowess.
The program has seen few changes over time, most notably the addition of girls to the competition and last year’s decision to change the lower age from 8 to 6 because kids are getting involved in sports at a younger age. The premise of the competition is quite simple. Each contestant gets one chance to excel at each specialty, but dividing the competition into the age groups makes it about as fair as it can be.
The City of Bartow Parks & Recreation is one of hundreds that sponsors a local competition. This year’s event was scheduled for Sept. 18 at Walker Field at 555 Park, but that afternoon brought nothing but rain showers. Organizers moved it to the next Tuesday, Sept. 25, which turned out to be a perfect day to be outside. The competition was free and open to all who fell within the age requirements.
Each participant received a medal and certificate of achievement. For those who topped their respective age group, the competition wasn’t over. In fact, nine Bartow children will have the opportunity for greater glory. The age group winners will be going to One Buc Place this weekend to compete in the sectional competition against other local winners. Sectional winners will be eligible for the team competition, which is held as part of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers home game. Only the top four sectional winners from the Tampa market will actually advance. The winners of the team competition are then recognized over the public address system at the Bucs game. If it is televised, the NFL will often recognize the winners to the television audience.
These were the lofty goals of the Bartow participants, some now a step closer to their dream. For some, it will be a first time taking the field at this level while a few will be making return visits after qualifying in years previous.
Seven-year-old Hunter Chauncey, a member of the My First Sports Football program, will be representing the 6-7 boys group. Hunter’s punt of 44 feet 10 inches was among the best of all of the age groups. Tori Martin used the kicking tee as her ticket to the sectionals, booting the ball farther than any other girl in the competition. Tori will represent the 6-7 girls.
Cameron Thomas heaved a 70-foot pass to power through the 8-9 ranks on the boys side with Beniyah Smith claiming the honors for 8-9 girls. Beniyah has competed in two previous sectional competitions.
Trenton Williams was tops in all three areas for the 10-11 boys to easily win the division. A’Nya Clayton took the honors in the 10-11 girls using consistent throws and kicks to claim the honor.
D’Ante Jones was the best overall performer, winning the 12-13 boys group with a combined 175 total that included a 96-foot pass (That’s 32 yards!). Hailey McQuaig opened with a strong punt and held on to win the 12-13 girls.
There were no competitors in the 14-15. On the boys side, Jeremiah Bird celebrated his 15th birthday with a win in the class, helped out by a booming 59 foot kick from the tee.
Come Sunday morning, the winners get to do it all over again. The slate has been wiped clean and nothing matters except what happens between the lines.
Good luck to all Bartow representatives.