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Sisters put football skills to the test at Gillette

Sisters Jenna (left) and Riley Flaherty of Holderness show off the punting skills that earned them an invitation to compete in the NFLís Punt, Pass & Kick Contest during a Patriots game at Gillette Stadium on Oct. 31. (Brendan Berube) (click for larger version)
November 10, 2010
HOLDERNESS — A pair of sisters from Holderness were recently given an opportunity that most football fans in New England can only dream of — a chance to put their skills to the test at the home of the Patriots by competing in the NFL's Punt, Pass & Kick (PPK) Contest.

A grassroots initiative sponsored by the NFL as a way to keep children active and fit, the PPK Contest offers young football fans across the country a chance to compete against their peers for a shot at tickets to a playoff game.

Jenna Flaherty, a third grade student at the Holderness Central School, and her sister, second grader Riley Flaherty, were given a chance to represent New Hampshire at the regional competition, held just prior to the Patriots' Oct. 31 home game at Gillette Stadium. Riley claimed first place in the six-to-seven-year-old division, earning a chance to move on to the All New England competition, while Jenna placed fourth in the eight-to-nine-year-old division.

Decked out in their official PPK jerseys, the girls were still energized by the experience, and by the admiration of their fellow students, teachers, and school officials last week.

Jenna explained that she and Riley were introduced to football by their father, a rabid sports fan, and have "always liked it."

She and Riley were both surprised by how far they were able to advance in the competition, she added.

Bob Miller, Holderness Central's physical education teacher, explained that during each round of the competition, participants get one pass, one punt, and one kick for distance. The distances are measured and added together to calculate the child's score.

"It's kind of like 'Who gets the best day?'" Miller commented.

Jenna said it was "cool" to visit Gillette and wander through the complex of shops and restaurants that has sprung up around the stadium itself in recent years.

"It was big," Riley added, noting what she thought was the best part of the trip — "if you go on Halloween, you get candy."

In preparation for the regionals, she said, the girls' mother and father took them out for frequent practices.

Jenna said the competition was a bit tougher for her since the kids in her division were bigger and stronger than those Riley faced.

The competition, she said, included students from Massachusetts, Maine, and Rhode Island, as well as those from New Hampshire.

Principal William Van Bennekum said he and his staff were "excited" to see how far the girls have come.

"What I think is cool is that the competition started here, and now Riley has a chance to move up," he added. "That's a pretty neat deal."

Jenna said her classmates and teachers have all expressed their excitement over her recent trip to Foxborough.

There is, perhaps, no one more excited, however, than her father, who she said "has told everybody he talks to" how proud he is of both her and Riley.

Varney Smith
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