ATKINS The first time Kendall Roberts of Atkins won a National Football League Punt, Pass & Kick competition in 2007, it could have been a fluke.
Since then, she’s become a known quantity as she walks in and wins it again and again.
Kendall, 14, won the local and sectional NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competition this year, which sent her to Titans Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., on Dec. 2. There she won the four-state team championship in her age category.
NFL players like Sen’Derrick Marks and Rob Bironas, as well as all the cheerleaders, were giving her high-fives as they ran by. Kendall’s picture was flashed on the big screen at the stadium, too.
“It was sooo cool,” she said.
She also got the Titans jersey she wore and a football.
The top four in the nation will advance to compete during the American Football Conference championship game in January.
Kendall’s father, Darryl Roberts, said Kendall ranked 17th in the nation after the Tennessee event.
“It’s still quite an honor to be a four-state champ,” he said.
In 2007, Kendall said she was ranked 13th in the nation in her age group.
Kendall’s winning streak began at Vick Field in Russellville when she was 9. She accompanied her younger brother, Will, who went to participate in the local competition. It is a free event the Russellville Recreation and Parks Department sponsors.
“She’s a pretty good little athlete,” said Mack Hollis, director of the department.
Kendall said her father, mother Rachel Roberts, and her cousins encouraged her to compete in the first one.
“I didn’t even plan on doing it till I got there,” she said.
She was wearing flip-flops. “Mom gave me her tennis shoes, and I ended up winning,” she said.
“I was surprised, because I was just doing it for fun, because they convinced me.”
She also won in the sectional competition the Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department held and advanced to the team championship at Titans Stadium in Nashville.
“The first time it was really, really fun,” she said of the Nashville trip.
“From then on, after I won, I decided I could do this again — I did it year after year and it became a traditional thing,” she said.
Kendall participated in the Russellville Recreation and Parks Department competition in September 2008, 2009 and 2010, “and we missed last year, because we forgot about it,” she said.
She’s won the sectional competition four times. This year, Kendall won state against a 15-year-old. Her brother, who is 12, got second to a 13-year-old.
Darryl Roberts said there was only a week’s notice between the competition in Little Rock and the invitation to compete at Tennessee.
“I’m a plumber ... and we have a huge front yard,” he said.
He laid pipe end to end in a straight line for her to practice.
The goal is to pass, punt and kick close to a line on a football field.
“You want to get a far distance, but you also want to make sure” the ball lands close to the line," Kendall said.
Passing is “definitely” her best skill of the three, she said.
Except for right before a competition, the only practicing she does is playing catch with her brother.
A freshman at Atkins High School, Kendall is in the band and in sports.
“I play softball, competitive softball; I play volleyball, and I’m considering doing track,” she said. “It keeps me busy.”
She also attends Union Grove Free Will Baptist Church in Atkins, makes good grades and said she is considering becoming an orthodontist.
Kendall has one more year to compete in the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick competition, and she plans to do it.
Her classmates have been supportive of her success, she said.
“‘People I didn’t even know were coming up to me and saying, ‘That’s so cool — congratulations,’” she said.
Kendall is willing to share the limelight.
“I encourage every one of the kids. It’s really fun; it’s an amazing experience,” she said. “I encourage them to all go do it and try it.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.