By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
It’s easy to spot Jayla Medeiros or Jason Alani at the annual NFL Punt, Pass & Kick contests. Yes, they may be previous national champions, but they also carry themselves in a humble-but-confident style and open eyes with their impressive performances.
On a wet-and-slippery Saturday morning at Panaewa Park, Medeiros and Alani and were among the 45 contestants who participated in the state contest. The winners from the five boys age groups and five girls age groups are eligible to compete in the Team Championships on Dec. 2 at Qualcomm Stadium, in conjunction with a game between the New York Giants and San Diego Chargers.
“There will be six sectional contests held on the mainland this coming week and the Hawaii winners will compete against those winners to decide who is invited to San Diego,” local coordinator Brenda Kuamoo said. “The top four scores in each age group from all the sectionals will get the chance to advance. And if they win in San Diego, they’ll qualify for the national contest.”
Kuamoo said the PP&K contest allows youngsters to showcase their skills in punting, passing and kicking with scores based on distance and accuracy.
Medeiros, age 11, is a two-time national champion, having won in the 8-9 age group in 2012 and the 6-7 division in 2011. On Saturday, she captured the state’s 10-11 title with a 231-foot, 6-inch total despite the slippery conditions. She punted the football 51 feet, passed it 102-3 feet, and place-kicked the ball 78-3 feet. She went unopposed in the final but needed a high total to improve her chances of qualifying for the trip to San Diego.
“I was kind of nervous going into the contest,” the soft-spoken Medeiros said. “I saw a couple of boys fall down during their attempts. So I tried to focus and watch my steps. I’m glad I won, that was my goal.”
As the young Jayla stepped up to punt, her mom, Laressa, proudly watched from the side while her dad, Jacob, helped Kuamoo and other volunteers measure the distances of the punts, passes and kicks.
“Jayla’s quiet, not real emotional — she handles pressure well,” Laressa said. “She feels more pressure from her brother (Jaimison) because they’re both competitive.”
Jayla seemed relaxed when it came to her turn, looking fresh from a nap on the family’s early-morning drive from Kailua-Kona and energized by a bento from Cuzins in Hilo.
“She seemed to like everything in the bento, especially the chicken,” her mother said.
Besides Jayla and Jaimison, other siblings include Jayssa Grace, a junior at Konawaena and member of the Wildcats’ state Division II champion volleyball team; and Jaimin, 7, who also plays for the Kona Marlins Pop Warner football program along with Jayla and Jaimison.
Jayla, not surprisingly, plays quarterback for the Marlins.
“Jayla started playing football at age 8,” Laressa said. “I was coaching softball and one day when she didn’t show up, I finally tracked her down on the football field. She was playing flag football. I wanted her to play softball, but she told me ‘the girls are boring, I’d rather play football.’
“From that point on, she played football, although she has taken judo for the past two months.”
Father Jacob played football for Konawaena High, under highly successful head coaches Jim Barry and Bob Fitzgerald, graduating in 1992. Under the ageless Barry and determined Fitzgerald, the Wildcats had an impressive string of championships during the 1980s and ’90s.
The Medeiros family helped Kuamoo throughout Saturday’s contest.
Kuamoo was thrilled with the help.
“I know I can always count on Jayla’s family to help,” she said. “They’ve been to the nationals, they know what goes on and what needs to be done. I really appreciate their help and all the volunteers who come out.”
“It’s for the kids,” Jacob said. “Last year when we went up to the mainland for the competition, there were nine kids from Hawaii competing. And everybody knew they were from Hawaii because they always stuck together.”
Leivanelle Kaupu, Jason’s Alani’s godmom who brought the talented youngster to Saturday’s event, agreed.
Jason’s parents, Jason Sr. and Traci, weren’t able to make it to Hilo due to personal commitments, but they hope to join their son in San Diego after he finished first in his 10-11 age group Saturday. He had a 283-4 total, including a superb 117-foot spiral that brought some oohs and aahs from the onlookers.
“When we go up, we go as a whole family,” Kaupu said. “We meet there and help take care of each other.”
Last year, both Jason and brother Jarom, 8, competed in the contest in San Diego.
Once the top four individuals in each age group are officially invited to the Team Championships, their families must raise money for the trip. For a family of three, it might approach $5,000.
“The NFL only pays for the winners to go to the nationals,” Grace said.
Before competing against his 11-player age group Saturday, Alani, like Jayla Medeiros, relaxed and warmed up on the side, or showed support for the other competitors. But when it was his turn to step up and perform, he delivered with a punt of 90-7 feet, his terrific spiral pass and a 75-9 place kick. His overall point total was almost 100 feet farther than his age group’s runner-up.
“I’m excited to compete,” Alani said before his strong performance. “I want to do my best.”
Except for rain in the first hour and a slippery, muddy spot near the line to punt, pass and kick, the day moved along quickly. Two boys slipped and fell hard after kicks, and both jumped up and seemed to recover quickly.
“It’s too bad about the muddy spot,” Kuamoo said. “But once we started, we couldn’t change the spot because it wouldn’t have been fair to all of the contestants who already performed. It wasn’t easy but they made some adjustments and most of the time it worked out.”
Contestants from around the Big Island traveled to test their skills and the winners’ list included athletes from Kohala, Kona, Waiakea and Puna.
The state final concluded 11 contests that Kuamoo coordinated on the Big Island since the first week of September, running through Saturday.
“We had over 350 youngsters take part this year,” she said. “We didn’t have any contests on the other islands, but we did have some outer-island contestants participate in the Big Island events.”
About 20 minutes after the Punt, Pass & Kick Contest ended Saturday and a heavy rain again drenched Panaewa Park, PPK contest coordinator Brenda Kuamoo stood on the slippery field and measured out a late-running contestant’s scores. The young boy had been delayed by testing at Kamehameha Schools and his mom had frantically texted Kuamoo throughout the morning to let her know the boy would get to Panaewa Park as soon as he could.
The morning started at 10 a.m. with a steady rain and 45 contestants from around the Big Island hoping to advance to the Team Championships in San Diego. And each contestant had to battle the slippery, muddy conditions and persistent rain until the winners’ list was announced about 12 o’clock.
The 45 participants had finished their competition when the final youngster showed up and Kuamoo allowed him to complete the contest.
“We want to give everyone a fair chance,” a wet and exhausted Kuamoo said. She then spent about 15 minutes in the downpour, tracking down and measuring the youngster’s pass, punt and kick totals.
“We don’t get a lot of people that come out and help in these competitions, but we do have some dedicated volunteers who help,” Kuamoo said. “And it’s all for the youngsters.”
Kuamoo then headed back to her car, replaced the footballs and measuring tape back in her trunk, then headed home to record all the official contest scores — capping another busy, wet and productive day for the tireless PPK coordinator.
Saturday at Panaewa Park
• 6-7 age group: 1. Leyton Neves, Kohala, 110-7; 2. Caleb Breihaupt, Ka’u, 104-4; 3. Jason Mandaquit, Hilo, 101.
• 8-9: 1. Nalukea Kamakea, Waiakea, 186-3; 2. Kamaehu Makanui, Kona, 160-7; 3. Wailele Kane-Yates, Hilo, 152.
• 10-11: 1. Jason Alani, Kona, 283.4; 2. Kuhao Kane, Kohala, 184.4; 3. Kilohana Haasenritter, Hilo, 180-5.
• 12-13: 1. Kelsan Caculidious, Kohala, 277.6; 2. Kanaipono Kahala-Giron, Keaukaha, 217.5; 3. Chriatian Mamone, Hilo, 190.1.
• 14-15: 1. Feleipe Ruval, Kohala, 378.3; 2. Jamal Buyuan, Ka’u, 353.5; 3. Gus Morante, Hilo, 283.4.
• 6-7: No contestants.
• 8-9: 1. Kanoe Piltz, Kona, 107. Only contestant.
• 10-11: 1. Jayla Medeiros, Kona, 231-6. Only contestant.
• 12-13: Staycia Hoomana, Puna, 114-11.
• 14-15: Laulei Matafa, Maui, did not compete but qualified with previous point total.