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Ruthlawn first-grader displays Punt, Pass, Kick skills

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Macie Mallory has an angelic face, with rosy cheeks, curly hair and sheepish smile.

She also has skills. More specifically, she has the specific skills that could someday help her become a gifted football player.

Macie, 7, recently finished 15th in a regional competition for the NFL's "Punt, Pass and Kick" competition, a tournament designed to let kids practice the skills needed for football without actually playing the sport competitively until they're older.

That's another thing Macie has: medals.

She won at her school, Ruthlawn Elementary, and went on to a sectional competition at Laidley Field. When she won there, her score was so high that she qualified to go to a championship game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It's really exciting to do this," Macie said. "I like that I'm a good winner."

Greg Garber, the gym teacher at Ruthlawn, does a lesson revolving around Punt, Pass and Kick every year.

"It's a lot of paperwork for me, but it's worth it," he said.

 Garber takes time each year to teach the kids the basic skills associated with football. He hands out worksheets with questions asking kids to "circle the part of the foot that touches the ball when you punt," next to a line drawing of a football cleat. (If done correctly, they circled the laces.)

He believes it's a good way to teach kids the skills, and to get them excited about gym class - football is more interesting to kids than typical gym class games like dodge ball, if only because it's something their fathers talk about and watch on Sundays.

"For me, it's about finding the most opportunities for things that they enjoy, and giving them a wide range of activities that get them active," he said.

This year's lesson was made sweeter by Macie's win - she's the first student from Ruthlawn to go so far in the competition. She finished 15th in the competition at Heinz Field.

Macie had never taken an interest in football before they started to work on punting, passing and kicking at school.

"Because she's a girl and she has two older sisters, we don't have footballs in the house," said her mother, Kristen Musich. "But I think she's just an innately strong kid."

After she had a couple wins, she's been "glowing from ear to ear all the time," Musich said. More than anything else, all the winning did wonders for her self-esteem.

Macie isn't shy about her success. She'll easily talk about how good she is at passing, and how much better she's gotten at punting since she started practicing with her dad and stepdad.

The thing she likes best about the whole thing, Macie says, is making her parents happy.

"They said they were really proud of me," she said. "I really like that."

The best moment seems to have been at Heinz field, when the family got to see little Macie projected up onto the Jumbotron screen during half-time of a Steelers game.     

Macie lights up just at the mention of it and Garber is still passing around his cellphone to show people photos.

"Mommy was crying happy tears," Macie said.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.


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