Over 31 years running the Punt, Pass & Kick competition in Butte and western Montana, Don Davis only has 2 inches of regret.
That is the how close Ryan Mickelson came within qualifying for the national finals as a 13 year old in 1995. Two measly inches.
Mickelson, who went on to be a standout athlete at Butte High School, literally missed moving on from the Seattle Seahawks competition by “that much.”
Michelson captured the Seahawks PPK competition after winning the local competition in Butte and then the sectional in Missoula. But while he won the Seattle event — “he blew away the competition,” Davis said — his marks just missed moving onto nationals once compared with other team champions.
When the NFL announced that it was no longer supporting the PPK event — and basically killing it — those two inches are what came to Davis’ mind.
“That’s my one regret,” Davis said. “I really wanted to see a Butte kid go to nationals.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL top dogs who made this probably do not feel any regret for letting such a great competition fall by the wayside. That is because they are too busy counting their money to see the harm they did to the sport and to young athletes around the nation.
For a league that took in $14 billon last year, that is, as the great philosopher Donald Trump would say, sad. It is also a shortsighted act by a league that is losing players year after year because of the great concussion scare.
PPK dates back to1961, and Davis ran it in Butte since the late 1980s. Butte-area athletes have looked forward to the event each fall. Some wanted a trip to Seattle, while others were just happy to compete with their friends.
The event drew 100 or more competitors almost every year.
Perhaps the best thing about the local event, which took place on a Sunday in late September or early October each fall, was seeing the Montana Tech football players work the event. The Orediggers were usually in charge of measuring the punts, passes and kicks.
Some players also saw it within their duties to offer some encouragement and support for the young athletes.
Last year, I captured a photo of Montana Tech star receiver Dion Williams helping a group of young boys stay warm during the cold, rainy afternoon at Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
Some of the boys knew Williams was the receiver having a breakout season for a great Oredigger team, while even more simply knew he played football for Tech. Some even had no idea who he was.
As he was leading them in “knee highs,” Williams started teasing some boys about their favorite NFL teams. Every boy excitingly yelled his favorite team to him to see what type of reaction the receiver would give.
It was one of the most genuine, unplanned moments I ever saw involving a student-athlete interaction with young fans, and that says a lot since the Orediggers seem to specialize in moments like that these days.
Another great moment came a year or two before when young Kooper Klobucar made the jaws of some Tech players hit the ground with a long toss.
Kooper is one of the all-time Mining City greats in PPK, and the older players did not realize that when he stepped up to throw.
Tech players yelled things like “holy” and “wow” as they watched the ball sail over their heads. They had to run back to try to accurately mark the distance of the throw.
It didn’t matter that they might not have precisely marked the throw because the length caught them off guard. Nobody else was even close.
Sure, there is nothing stopping Davis or anyone else from running a local punt, pass and kick competition.
When the NFL walked, though, it took away the structure that led to sectional, team and national level. What are the odds of getting every city in Montana on board for a state competition, let alone a national one?
The young athletes were there for a chance to earn a trip to Seattle. Believe it or not, our kids are really not satisfied with participation trophies.
In trying to justify the move, the NFL said it is shifting its focus and resources to other priorities, like the NFL FLAG-In-Schools program.
That might be a great program. But it does absolutely nothing for kids in Butte or the rest of the state, where there PPK was the NFL’s only reach besides the NFL Sunday Ticket.
Sure, the league can tell them to play for an hour a day through the Play 60 initiative, but the NFL just took away some incentive for the kids.
Maybe some more kids will now play flag football in bigger cities around the country, good luck trying to start a flag league in Butte or around the state.
Dillon has a great flag football league — which might be the secret to the Beavers winning state championships year after year — but the NFL has nothing to do with it. And Dillon clearly has no need for the NFL.
In Butte, we have the Mining City Little Guy Football program, which introduces young boys and girls to tackle football, free of charge, starting in the fourth grade.
I am nervous about my boy playing tackle football thanks to Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, and I might rather he be playing flag football until he is 24 or so. However, Little Guy Football is run so unbelievably well that you cannot even imagine any flag football leagues putting a dent in it.
The kids love it.
So, it is clear that the NFL is letting down the majority of kids in a move that is really all about saving a few bucks. The league is, as they say, tripping over a $100 bill to save a penny.
The league, by the way, is about to give Goodell a raise on his seven-year, $300 million salary.
Granted, the PPK competition probably cost the league a decent amount of money. But so does a backup quarterback. The league seems to have no problem throwing buckets of money at them.
If the NFL wants to push its FLAG-In-Schools program, that is fine. You cannot tell anyone with a straight face that the league full of billionaire owners cannot do both.
Eliminating the PPK competition was a move that was shortsighted, at best.
If he ever takes a break counting his money, Goodell will realize it is also worth about 2 miles of regret.
— Bill Foley writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74