Payson’s long tradition of sending top-notch competitors to NFL Punt, Pass and Kick competitions received yet another boost when a trio of Rim Country teens finished as gold medalists in sectional finals held Oct. 30 in Flagstaff.
Skylar Way took first in the 14- to 15-year-old boys division, Taylor Mansoor was first among the 14- to 15-year-old girls and R.J. Butler brought home the gold in the 10- to 11-year-old boys contest.
Way punted, passed and kicked 313 feet, 4 inches, which easily bettered the mark of 302 feet he set earlier when winning the Payson age/sex group PP&K competition.
Mansoor, also a Payson area champion, won the sectional title with a distance of 181 feet. She was the only girl to represent Payson at Flagstaff.
Butler finished with a mark of 189 feet, 4 inches.
In the boys passing competition, Way reeled off an impressive throw of 161 feet, 4 inches that is expected to be one of the better efforts turned in this year.
Both Way and Mansoor are repeat Payson PP&K winners, having finished first in their respective age groups in 2010.
With the section wins, Way, Mansoor and Butler are eligible to compete in the state finals if their distances turn out to be among Arizona’s best.
“We are still waiting on three other sectionals to happen before we know if our winners get to move on to state,” said Payson recreation coordinator Mary Wolf.
The state championships will be held Dec. 18 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale just prior to a Cardinals vs. Cleveland Browns game.
Last year, Way advanced to the state finals after winning the Payson and sectional titles.
Competing in the state championships at University of Phoenix stadium prior to an Arizona Cardinals vs. St. Louis Rams game, Way — then a seventh-grader at Rim Country Middle School — was second.
For his showing, Way received a Cardinals football jersey, a ticket to the game and a football engraved with “NFL PPK 2010.”
In addition to Way and Mansoor competing at the 2011 sectionals, Kenneth Ayers, Hunter Harold and Will Hubbard also represented Payson.
Ayers, competing in the 12- to 13-year-old boys division, had the misfortune of being forced to compete against five-time sectional winner and two-time PP&K national runner-up Prescott Derk Knotek of Prescott. Once again, Knotek won the section title, but Ayers was hot on his heels with a distance of 292 feet, 3 inches.
Ayers particularly shined in the kicking, with a boot of 114 feet, 2 inches that was further than any sectional competitor in any age group.
In the 8- to 9-year-old age group, Payson champion Hunter Harold was second at 128 feet, 8 inches. In winning the Payson title, he finished at 141 feet, 11 inches.
Payson 6- to 7-year-old boys champion Will Hubbard also competed in Flagstaff, but did not place.
Other Payson winners were Jasmine Olson in the division for 8- to 9-year-old girls, and Taylor Keeney, in the 10- to 11-year-old girls.
Over 75 youngsters competed in the Payson PP&K competition, about 30 more than last year.
About Punt, Pass and Kick
The PP&K competition allows boys and girls, ages 6 to 15 years, to showcase their football skills in punting, passing and placekicking. Scores are based on distance and accuracy.
The program has a storied history in Payson that includes attracting some of the town’s finest young athletes into its ranks.
Among the most successful of the competitors was current Lady Longhorn soccer coach Amy Wilcox, who won four Payson PP&K championships. In 2000, she captured the sectional crown and advanced to Sun Devil Stadium, then the home of the Arizona Cardinals, where she came within an eyelash of winning a berth in the national PP&K championships.
Others who have participated and gone on to excel at Payson High School include Waylon Pettet, Nate Lee, Porter Wilbanks, Retosha Marshall, Westin Gibson, Payson Herring and Scott Andrus.
The NFL Pepsi gridiron program is a national skills competition. Established in 1961, the PP&K program is the oldest NFL Youth Football program. Girls and boys in four separate age divisions compete.
The PP&K program is free — both to organizers, like the Payson Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, and to every youngster who wants to participate.
With more than 4 million youngsters from around the country taking part, it is one of the world’s largest youth sports participation programs.