As its name would imply, the Punt, Pass and Kick competition has a very specific list of requirements for its participants.
For 9-year-old Stefanie Bloedel of North Augusta, however, it was the hidden obstacles that stood between her and victory Sunday at the Georgia Dome.
Punting, passing and kicking came easy for her.
Crowds, elevators and mascots were another story.
"It was kind of scary," said Stefanie, who overcame her fears and fellow female competitors to win her age bracket as the Atlanta Falcons regional champion.
Bloedel did it despite the 70-some thousand people who filled the Georgia Dome to see the Falcons clinch the NFC South with a victory over the Oakland Raiders. She did it in spite of the elevator ride that took her from the upper deck to the stadium floor for the halftime and third-quarter introductions. She did it in spite of the close call from Freddie Falcon on the sideline.
"It was awful stressful for her and for us," said Stefanie's father, Steve, who could only watch from the upper deck. "She handled it better than we did."
Stefanie is clearly a gifted athlete and motivated by her 13-year-old brother, Steven. The fourth grader at Augusta Christian School excels at just about every sport she tries.
She's a standout of the Aiken Fireballs travel soccer team that, according to her father, ranks first in the state and 47th in the nation. She plays for the Aiken Raiders travel softball team. She's developing as a basketball player, and she rose to Level 4 at Haydens International Gymnastics before quitting because the practice demands were too much.
"I want to be a professional soccer player," she said. "And maybe basketball, too."
When she becomes the next Mia Hamm or Diana Taurasi, let's hope Stefanie retains her adorable 9-year-old candor and sensibilities.
Few kids could make a story about throwing and kicking a football a cumulative distance of 145 feet (including a 30-foot deduction for a slightly off-line punt) so entertaining.
The young Miss Bloedel has her own way of doing things and her own perspective of the world.
Going onto the field to throw a pass in front of a capacity NFL crowd was an accomplishment for a young girl who sometimes refuses to dribble a basketball in front of a few dozen parents and friends.
"The anticipation is what gets to her," said her mother, Brenda.
"At first it was scary when I had to walk out on the field," Stefanie said.
To get to the field, she needed to ride a cramped elevator with her fellow competitors. Stefanie still has trouble with those since being stuck briefly in one as an even smaller girl at a Myrtle Beach hotel.
"I don't really like them," she said. "But it was OK."
Then there is the mascot issue.
Stefanie hasn't been too fond of them since she hugged Georgia's Hairy Dog as a child and noted that "it was scratchy and felt weird."
"When I was little," she said. "I used to think (mascots) didn't have a real person inside."
She's been known to run away screaming from Louie the Lynx at hockey games. So when Freddie Falcon charged up on his ATV and grabbed the hat off the head of the boy standing next to her, Stefanie naturally pressed into the background.
"I didn't really hide," she said. "I was already behind him."
In the face of all that adversity, Stefanie still excelled.
Even when her opening punt strayed 10 yards off the target line, she made up ground on the competition with a pass of 49 feet and a place-kick of 60 feet. It was more than enough to win and get to keep the football she used as well as the Falcons jersey.
"I don't like the Falcons," she said. "I'm a Georgia fan."
Alas, her winning tally wasn't quite enough to advance her to the national PP&K finals at a future NFL playoff game. That's not bad considering it might have brought a whole new obstacle to the competition - flying in an airplane.
"I haven't been on one," she said, "but I've heard of people's planes crashing and they die. That's kind of scary. And having to go way up in the air with your feet not touching the ground, that's pretty scary, too."
Just something else on the way to athletic stardom for Bloedel to overcome.
But as she showed on Sunday at the Georgia Dome, she's usually up to any challenge.
Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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