Two youths punt, pass and kick their way to RFK Competition provided day to remember

January 03, 1993|By Mike Jefferson | Mike Jefferson,Contributing Writer

Of all the punts, passes and kicks Jeremy Burns and Sean Ireland have executed, none matched the excitement of those on Dec. 26.

As two of 36 competitors in the Team Championships of the NFL Gatorade Punt, Pass and Kick Competition at RFK Stadium, Burns, 12, of Forest Hill, and Ireland, 11, of Fallston, displayed their passing skills during halftime of the Washington Redskins-Los Angeles Raiders game.

Dressed in Redskins uniforms, they jogged onto the turf before more than 60,000 spectators, vying for a Feb. 7 trip to Honolulu to compete in the national finals during halftime of the NFL's Pro Bowl.

Burns and Ireland earned a trip to the championships by winning both local and sectional competitions.

By advancing to the championships, the players had an opportunity thousands of youngsters had dreamed about -- meeting Redskins players and coaches, getting autographs and being on the same field as some of the best in the NFL.

At 12:30 p.m., the players and parents gathered at the stadium to listen to instructions as the cold wind whipped around the east gate.

Six age groups (8 to 13) competed, with six competitors in each group.

Players and parents then walked over to the Redskins' practice field, where the punting and kicking portions of the contest took place. It was cold and windy, and the field was muddy, but the kids didn't seem to mind.

Back at the stadium near the Redskins' locker room, the players and parents warmed up. Next, they were escorted onto the field and into game-level seats for a close-up view of the Redskins' bench.

"Charles Mann, he's like huge . . . I couldn't get over how big he was," said Burns.

Before long, the players were on the field. Because of time constraints, each competitor had only one throw.

Spectators cheered as each player heaved the ball as far as he could.

Burns, a fullback and inside linebacker for the 10-12 Bel Air Red skins, and Ireland, a running back for the Fallston 9-11 team, both said they did their best in the throwing competition.

"I didn't look at the people because I knew it would make me nervous," said Ireland. "I focused on trying to get a spiral and not throw from the side."

Burns also was focused.

"I was trying to throw a good pass and do what my dad taught me to do . . . to reach behind my ear and throw it," he said.

Distance was measured on a straight line, with points subtracted for throws off to the left or right.

The winner of each age group on Team Washington will have his scores compared with age-group winners of the other 27 NFL teams. The top five in each age group are bound for Honolulu.

Burns' final score for the day was 227.10, and Ireland scored 160.0.

Although neither won his age group against stiff competition from Maryland and Virginia, each received prizes and VIP treatment that made it a day to remember.

Even the parents felt the excitement. Neither Jeremy's nor Sean's parents had ever been to a football game at RFK Stadium.

"We rented a limo because we figured it would be something he would remember for the rest of his life," said Gary Ireland, Sean's father.

Clarence and Lynne Burns celebrated by taking the family out to dinner and staying overnight in Washington to sight-see the next day.

"Just seeing him out there on the field at RFK made me very proud," said Clarence Burns.

Ireland and Burns were allowed to keep the team uniforms, punt, pass and kick hats, Gatorade water bottles, trading cards and a certificate from the NFL signed by commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

This year marked the renewal of the competition that once thrived in the 1970s but was dropped in 1980. NFL players such as quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde, Dan Marino and Randall Cunningham and kicker Matt Stover are former competitors.

"The purpose was not only to promote the sport but to provide a free competition to all levels to promote the three prominent skills in football," said Paul Denfeld, event organizer of Universal Marketing Associates, Inc. "It was a huge success."

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