Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kids Punt, Pass, Kick Their Way to Stardom; 8 Jacksonville Students Are Sectional Winners

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Kids Punt, Pass, Kick Their Way to Stardom; 8 Jacksonville Students Are Sectional Winners

Article excerpt

Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND

With more than 68,000 rabid football fans looking on, these kids will show off their throwing arms.

They will walk onto Alltel Stadium's field at halftime of the Jaguars-San Francisco 49ers game Sunday primed to become future gridiron stars, or, at the very least, fans of the game.

To get to the NFL Pepsi Punt, Pass & Kick team competition, these 40 boys and girls competed against about 5,000 kids at schools and other venues in North Florida and South Georgia.

Moreover, five of Jacksonville's eight sectional winners are from one school -- San Jose Catholic on Toledo Road.

"That's pretty unusual," said Norman Blum, who ran the Jacksonville sectional competition at The Bolles School. "Most of the time it's spread out among several schools. One school doesn't dominate like that. They must have been practicing."

Winners move from local to sectional competition, with each NFL market broken into a minimum of five regions. Boys and girls compete separately in four age categories: 8-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15.

The five sectional winners in the various age divisions then advance to the team championship, which will be at 8:15 a.m. Sunday on the Jaguars' practice field. Participants launch one punt, one pass and one kick, with scores based on distance and accuracy. At halftime, participants will be introduced and participate in a passing exhibition.

"It's an experience they will never forget," said Blum, whose daughter Rachel, now a Bolles junior, was a four-time winner. "To me, it was like athletic nirvana when your kid is on the field."

The top four scorers in each age group from across the country qualify as national finalists and get to go to the AFC championship game. In 1999, one Jacksonville student, Matt Kappleman, won the 14- to 15-year-old boys division at the national level.

Blum said a lot of kids enter the free competition through their physical education classes, as was the case with San Jose Catholic. Its representatives are: Anna DeSalvo, girls 8-9; Jake Mills, boys 8-9; Greg Masley, boys 10-11; John Masley, boys 12-13; and Erika Rukab, girls 12-13.

Jacksonville's other three sectional winners are: Kaniesha Couser, girls 14-15; Rebecca Ray, girls 10-11; and Cole Stevenson, boys 14-15. …

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