She might not be all that big, or old, but don't go underestimating 7-year old Selena Maldonado and her tough-cookie mentality.
The 2nd grader from Hornell, NY placed second in the country in her age group in the NFL's Punt, Pass & Kick competition, and will represent the Bills in the National Championship this weekend in Seattle.
As the youngest of five – her four brothers having all competed in Punt, Pass & Kick before her – Selena's mom isn't one bit surprised at her success on the national stage.
Highlights include competition in ADPRO Sports Training Center, meet and greet with Bills # 50 Kiko Alonso, lunch in the team cafeteria, Nike and New Era Bills gifts and Stampede Row before Bills vs. Packers game.
"She's been very competitive since the age of three," said her mom, Michelle Reinhart. "She sees the boys, and they're good athletes, so she wants to follow in their footsteps."
Selena more than followed in her older brothers' footsteps when she competed in the regional competition near her hometown and qualified for the Team Championships in the Bills Fieldhouse at the ADPRO Sports Training Center on December 13. After winning her age group on the team level, she and the other winners had the chance to form Stampede Row as Bills players took the field for their home game against the Packers.
But even better than her debut on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium was news that her score from that Team Championship earned her a second place finish in the entire nation, and that she would be one of only 40 kids given a trip to Seattle to compete for the national title out of millions of participants nationwide this year. Bills owner Kim Pegula sent Selena a note of congratulations and good luck for this great honor.
And while placing second overall in a national athletic competition – mind you, one that has a 53 year history – is a big deal for most, it's all in a day's work for little Selena.
"On the same day she was competing in Punt, Pass & Kick she was competing for a regional title for soccer," said Reinhart. "She's only 7 years old so she doesn't quite get the magnitude of it.
"We're all very excited. Her dad is the coach but she looks to me to get her ready and make sure her hair is good."
Selena and her family will fly out to Seattle in preparation for the Saturday, January 10 competition at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Wash. As in the regional and sectional competitions, all participants will launch two punts, two passes and two kicks with scores based on distance and accuracy. The top scorer in each group will be crowned the national champion.
Though Selena is a fierce competitor at the young age of 7, Reinhart has instilled in her daughter that it's more about the experience than bringing home the title.
"What I want her to take from this is that it's a big accomplishment to get to this level and whatever happens there doesn't matter," said Reinhart. "In a perfect world we'd want to go there and win but I want her to know it was a great experience to go there and compete. And we'll have a ton of fun with it."