Bailey Spell loves sports, and while soccer and volleyball are perhaps her favorites, she’s not too shabby with a football either.
The 9-year-old recently returned from a trip to Charlotte where she placed second in the N.C./SC division of the NFL’s annual Punt, Pass and Kick competition, girls division, and had the opportunity to step onto the field of Bank of America Stadium, home to the Carolina Panthers.
The competition was actually held prior to the Panthers’ game, and Spell, daughter of Brad and Erin Spell of Clinton, was among the youngsters given an opportunity to not only compete but participate in agility drills — jumping through ladders and knocking down the football dummies, just like the Panther players.
For the Sunset Avenue Elementary fourth-grader, it was a dream experience come true, albeit a bit nerve-wracking in front of thousands upon thousands of Carolina Panthers fans.
Two weeks after her competition, Spell offers insights into her day of fame during an interview where she laughs and talks with ease about sports, the competition and her day in Charlotte.
“It was fun, but I was a little nervous,” the youngster admits, her eyes lighting up as she begins to detail the events of the day, which included her competition with four other girls in her age bracket from the Carolinas.
She placed second, punting the ball 15 yards, 5 shy of her punting best of 20 yards.
Her dad, Clinton High soccer coach Brad Spell, sits quietly as his daughter tells her story, interjecting his own thoughts like the proud dad he is. “She missed first by a darn yard,” he said, “but I was very proud of her. She did a great job.”
Dad beams, a near identical smile to the younger Spell seated beside him.
Bailey’s eyes light up at her father’s compliment and she laughs. “I have done better, but I really was a little nervous. It was a big place and there was a lot of people watching us. Plus, there was a big band playing. That was kind of distracting. It was fun, though. I really did have a good time.”
Her favorite part of the competition — kicking the football. She does her kicking soccer-style, a habit she’s picked up after playing that sport since she was a mere 4 year olds.
During the competition, Bailey said she tried hard to focus on not kicking the ball so hard. “You really have to concentrate,” she said, squinting her eyes together to show the focus needed. “To do it right, you have to kick it close to the shoe laces. I tried real hard to do that.”
She likes competing, particularly in athletic events often considered just for boys. “I like beating the boys,” she acknowledges, grinning again. “That’s really fun to do.”
But she also likes playing with her two younger brothers, something, she said, that gives her even more experience.
Whether she’ll compete in the Punt, Pass and Kick competition remains up in the air, something she said she’ll think about a little closer to time for the events to begin again. She’s not saying she won’t though, opting, instead to kick around her options for the time being.
She shrugs her shoulders. “I just don’t know yet about next year.”
But she enjoyed this year’s competition and the chance to go to see the Panthers and compete in their stadium. “We got to run to the middle of the field and stand on the sidelines. That was pretty neat.”
“It was cool,” dad chimes in, pride evident in his voice.
And Bailey added, the Panthers fed the PPK group lunch, another “neat” thing she had the opportunity to be a part of that day.
While she loves sports and the outdoors, the 9-year-old also likes dance and believes in keeping her grades up. She is a member of Suzi Faircloth’s cloggers and she is a straight A student at Sunset.
“I like it all,” Bailey says, smiling at her dad. “I want to do my best at everything I do.”
Dad Brad nods his head in agreement. “She does a good job of it, too,” he says.