Gender not a barrier in NFL program

Local girl wins Punt, Pass, and Kick
By: Amanda Calzada Placer Herald Correspondent
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One local girl got some exciting news from the National Football League when she was invited to compete in Punt, Pass, and Kick, during a San Francisco 49er football game, last month. Melaina Valdez, a 13-year-old student at Granite Oaks where she is on the honor roll, was informed as to her ranking among competitors in her age group and given the chance to take her skills to the next level. “Knowing I got that high was exciting,” said Valdez, who is now ranked sixth nationally among all 12-13-year-old girls for punting, passing, and kicking a football. The NFL’s Punt, Pass, and Kick program strives to involve youth in football and fitness through competitions open to both boys and girls ages 6-15. Competition is by gender, and each youth is allowed one punt, one pass, and one placekick in competition. Scores are based on both distance and accuracy. The efforts are measured in feet and inches, and rolls and bounces are not considered. Final scores are the sum of the three individual events. Negative scores are not distributed. NFL alumni athletes often show up for PPK, and Valdez remembers seeing the celebrated Joe Montana at the San Francisco game. The program is a national skills competition and is the oldest NFL Youth Football program. PPK is described as punting, passing, and place kicking “in a fun and engaging forum.” There is no cost to participate. PPK prides itself on being one of the world’s largest youth sports participation programs. It attracts over three million boys and girls across the country, and takes place from July through January. Because the program commemorated its 50th year, Valdez earned a neon green and blue football for her performance. The football is showcased in her room among multiple trophies and medals and a PPK football from two years ago. Having participated in PPK competitions prior to the December game, Valdez said she was nervous when she stepped on the field, nervous, but sported an “I don’t care if I mess up” attitude. Seeing kids punt, pass, and kick before her turn boosted her mental stamina, she said. Prior to the 49ers game, her sum total was 295 feet. She scored 258 feet, 7 inches at the 49er game, but ended up two feet short of qualifying for the national round. While Valdez has been involved in the NFL program for just two years, punting, passing, and kicking are not new concepts. Originally, neighbors, friends, and her brother inspired her to get involved in football. Valdez has been a member of a recreational football team for five years, and plays select soccer for Rocklin. The athlete also holds Granite Oak’s girls track and field record in the shot put, 37 feet, 9 inches. Valdez is interested in joining the freshman football team at Rocklin High, while also continuing her other sports. “Focus more on accuracy than distance,” Valdez gave as advice for those wanting to participate in Punt, Pass, and Kick.