Punt, Pass and Kick might be the most nationally recognized youth football competition because it's been around longer than most programs, but Major League Baseball's Fleer Diamond Skills is every bit as exhilarating for up-and-coming baseball players.
The program has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years since its inception, and offers baseball hopefuls the opportunity to show off their skills, much like PP&K.
Impressed by the opportunities the program offers, the Town Parks and Recreation Department will be bringing Diamond Skills to Payson from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. April 14 on the Rumsey 2 field.
Boys and girls ages 7 to 14 are eligible to participate. Age is determined as of July 17, 1999.
There is no fee to participate in the program. However, recreation coordinator Beth Kreider says it is important for parents to preregister their youngsters at P&R offices located at Green Valley Park.
"We really want to encourage early registration. It helps the event run more smoothly and makes it better for all," she said.
In addition to forms at the parks and recreation offices, forms will also be distributed by local Little League coaches.
"Get (the forms) back to us as quickly as possible," Kreider advises.
In the competition, youths will be grouped according to age and sex. Their skills are tested in batting, fielding/throwing and base running. Those with the best scores in each group advance to sectional competition later this summer.
Halenar looking for second trip to state
Probably no youngster in Payson more eagerly awaits the upcoming Diamond Skills competition than Frontier Elementary School second-grader, Ridge Halenar.
That's because the youngster and his parents, Bob and Michelle, harbor some very fond memories from last year's event.
Competing as a 7-year-old, in the 7-8 age group, Ridge threw, ran and hit his way to championships in both the town and sectional competitions held in Payson.
The twin victories qualified Ridge for the state championships contested inside the Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix -- the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The event was every kid's dream -- to be able to play and perform in a huge stadium.
Things only got better for Ridge and his parents.
The competition was held in mid-afternoon, a few hours prior to a game that pitted the Diamondbacks against the Seattle Mariners.
At the completion of the Diamond Skills shoot-out, minutes before the game was to start, Ridge and the other state qualifiers were called onto the diamond where they were introduced by the game announcer to the overflow crowd.
"It was pretty neat," Bob Halenar said.
After being introduced, Ridge scampered back to his seat and settled in to enjoy the game.
The experience left Ridge champing at the bit to return to the competition and improve upon his state third-place finish.
Today, he's playing on a Little League team coached by his father, but when there's a spare minute, dad and son spend time prepping for the upcoming competition.
The first visit to Bank One Ballpark was a great family experience -- an outing the family says they'd like to repeat.
"We're really looking forward to it," dad says.