On a balmy Saturday morning, groups of kids line up along the sidelines of Wolfe Park’s football field. Some are waiting to kick off a tee, while others are about to test their passing skills throwing across the yardage lines marked with measurements. The NFL’s Punt, Pass, and Kick (PPK) competition, celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2011, has attracted this collection of Monroe area youth for a chance to compete in football skills competitions against their peers.
Monroe Lions head coach Steve Christy, who officiated most of the events, was cheering on each of the participants before they took their turns at the respective stations.
"You can see how much excitement these kids have ... they love the competition," he said.
Christy ran a three day football camp last week called the "Thrills and Skills Football Clinic" at Wolfe Park, where he taught the fundamentals of kicking and passing to a group of around 80 kids. His goal was to teach the basics in football to local young athletes, in preparation for the NFL PPK competition. He was very happy to see a large numbers of his campers, just under 40 total, ready to show their stuff when it counts.
"We promoted this, and we had a word we wanted the kids to say at the end: 'Yes'", Christy said. "All walks of life, we're all the same. If we're faced with something tough, we tend to say, 'Oh, I can't do this.' So if you just give yourself a 'yes' answer, you can get through anything."
The PPK is certainly a pressure filled environment, one in which you have to perform your very best or risk elimination from the contest. This is a realization that was not lost on coach Christy.
"Today was a good day to compete and show your stuff," he said. "It's one and done, you only get one chance and if you don't come through you don't advance."
For those unfamiliar with the NFL PPK competition, it is a national contest (Wolfe Park was chosen a regional qualifying site by the NFL) for boys and girls between (six) and (15). The kids are broken up into age groups, and compete against the others in their section to see how far they can punt, pass and kick a football. The winners for each group advance to the sectionals. This year, the sectionals will be held in October at Fairfield's Ludlowe High School. And for a hilarious historical reference, go to YouTube and search for current Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid's performance in the 1971 PPK.
The participants had a lot of fun, and enjoyed the camaraderie amongst their teammates and friends. Matt Hersch, an 11-year-old quarterback, was particularly excited about the passing competition. He took home the gold medal in the 10-11 age group. "My favorite part was the awards ceremony," he said.
His teammate, 11-year-old Ryan Shaw, found another part of the competition to be his favorite. "I probably liked the kicking the best," Shaw said. When asked if he was thinking of switching from wide receiver to kicker, Shaw gave an emphatic "no."
Nick Dellapiano, 12, quarterback for the Monroe Lions, not surprisingly preferred the passing contest; he was joined by his brother, Jake, who won the gold medal in the 6-7 age group.
"Passing was my favorite," the 7-year-old said. Jake's teammate on the Monroe 79ers, George French, was a fan of the kicking challenges. There was something for everybody at this PPK, and the vibe throughout the morning was one of competition, but also of excitement and enjoyment.
"Today went well, the kids had fun," said Evelyn Fox, a co organizer of the event who was instrumental in bringing the NFL PPK to Monroe. "They always love the competition between each other."
Even though not all of the kids can win and advance to the next round, they can follow the progress of those who did win online. The main website (www.nflppk.com) will have results listed for each of contests on the road to the nationals, as will the webpage for Sportslook (www.sportslookct.com).
"The culmination of those three days (the "Thrills and Skills" clinic) plus today was just a wonderful four days," Christy said.
In the interest of keeping the atmosphere light and fun, he even competed against one of his coaches in their own personal PPK, in which a misaligned placekick cost him a narrow victory. "To have the NFL involved in it is great, and special for these kids," Christy said. "All in all, it was a great day."