BUTTE – When the NFL announced it was pulling out of its storied Punt, Pass & Kick competition earlier this year, it took little time for the Butte community to respond.
Montana Tech, which has hosted the event for years, agreed to continue doing so but in a bigger role.
The YMCA and Tech Athletic Director Matt Stepan quickly met and hammered out details. Local businesses pledged support. The Kiwanis made sure every kid involved will get a t-shirt at the free event, which starts at noon on Sunday. Registration begins at 11:30 a.m. and preregistration forms for 1st to 8th grade boys and girls can be found on GoDiggers.com.
“It’s just indicative of the spirit of Butte,” Stepan said. “When something is taken away from our kids, you don’t have to go looking for people to help out. People always want to help. My phone was ringing off the hook.”
The idea popped into Stepan’s head after seeing the NFL had canceled the event and when Paul Babb – a member of the YMCA’s Board of Directors – came into his office to pick up his football tickets. The two began to chat.
The conversation led to the aforementioned planning meeting. Pizza Ranch – which will be giving every participant a coupon for a free buffet, plus a football – as well as Northwestern Energy, Mining City Little Guy Football, A-1 Ambulance and the Montana Tech Foundation.
Stepan also talked with Don Davis, a long time coordinator of the event, to help get ideas for running it. Butte has routinely gotten close to 100 kids to participate each year and running it is no small undertaking.
Despite the short timetable, the expectation is that the event won’t miss a step.
“I think what will make the event successful is that there’s no cost, the kids get to play on the turf, which is a big deal to them,” Stepan said. “They get to meet the (Montana Tech) players, too, which is a huge to them as well,”
The Oredigger football players will be an important part of the event, helping run the competition and simply being around.
Not only is it a service-opportunity for the team, it has deep meaning to a number of the players on the team. They aren’t on the field because they have to be, but because they want to be.
“I grew up in a split household, I only had my mom in the house,” senior defensive back Andre Brown said. “Kids look up to college football players, professional athlete, things like that. And for a kid to be able to see, interact, play with a college football player, that’s a life-changing experience for them.”
Wide receiver Chris Kelly mentioned that in previous years, the kids would celebrate with a dance move.
Dion Williams, a junior, looks forward to the event every year.
“It’s pretty fun, talking with kids and telling them about my experiences with football. It’s awesome. Me personally, I love kids,” Williams said. “Whenever I have a chance to help them, speak to them and instill positivity, I most definitely do it.”
While the winners won’t get a chance to advance to sectional and regional competitions as in the past, the top-two competitors from each age group will be brought back for Tech’s game against Rocky Mountain College on Oct. 28.
They;ll compete in front of the crowd at halftime.
While it’s not the Super Bowl, or even a regional competition in Seattle, it’s still something important. When Butte's kids needed the community to come together, it did so without hesitation.
“It’s a great thing, getting the youth of Butte to come up on our campus, to interact with our student-athletes, to compete, to have fun and to learn,” Tech coach Chuck Morrell said. “It’s just one of those things that those young people are going to remember for a really long time.”