By Martin Henderson
Samantha Woods, Sam Bam to her teammates, plays shortstop on her softball team, point guard on her basketball team and goalkeeper and midfield on her soccer team.
But on Saturday, the 9-year-old from Rancho Santa Margarita will be on a national stage with a football in her tiny hands.
The south Orange County girl is the only Californian competing in the NFL Punt, Pass & Kick National Finals."I'm going to try my hardest," said Sammi, a fourth-grader at Robinson Elementary who says Math is her favorite subject, but only because "sometimes I forget P.E. is a subject."
The PP&K competition will be at Valor Christian High in Highlands Ranch, Colo., and the following day there will be a pre-game exhibition before the Chargers play Denver in the second round of the AFC playoffs. An on-field awards presentation will take place after the third quarter.
According to Lee Anne Woods, her daughter is the No. 1 participant in her Girls 8-9 age group by about 15 feet.
Now in its 52nd year, each competitor in the PP&K is supposed to punt, pass and kick on a line, and the margin offline is subtracted from distance; all scores are combined to determine a winner. At the sectionals in Santee against six other winners from throughout California, Sammi passed 67 feet, punted 69 feet and kicked 72 feet. In the finals, each participant gets two attempts at each skill.
"This is the biggest thing to happen in the family," said Lee Anne, whose family lives in the community of Robinson Ranch. "She's been in situations before with all-stars, intense competition, but this is the biggest accomplishment for her.
"It's interesting to see how the kids do. She doesn't seem to be affected by the pressure at all, and we're very impressed by that. We're probably more nervous than she is."
Lee Anne and her husband, Terry, both participated in the PP&K when they were kids; as Lee Anne recalls, she took third and Terry second. Sammi's older sister, Andi (short for Andrea) won the local competition but finished third in sectionals.
Sammi seems to be a natural athlete. As a 6-year-old, she made a Rancho Trabuco Girls' Softball all-star team for 8-year-olds.
"We just thought it would be fun for her to do it," Lee Ann said. "She loves to play football. We're not letting her play tackle because she's pretty little for her age. I don't know where we would fit it in her schedule."
Sammi is 4 feet 6 inches tall, and 63 pounds and departed Friday morning for Colorado. She is competing against girls from Chattanooga, Tenn.; Warner Robins, Ga.; and Allen, Texas.
She'll be wearing Chargers colors against those of the Titans, Falcons and Cowboys, but she'll also be wearing gold.
The color of the Golden State.