When Ryan Newman visited Martinsville High School as part of NASCAR’s Chase Across America tour, he found himself 16th in points and an underdog in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Ten weeks later, Newman now finds himself as one of four drivers in the Championship Round, with a chance to win the title Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The school’s football team is now using Newman as inspiration, as they too find themselves in an underdog role heading into the state playoffs.
“Where he is winless and was still able to get to the Championship Round is a big deal for us,” said Bulldogs center Harrison Toole. “We have one win. Nobody’s expecting us to go anywhere in this tournament, but yet, if we tried hard and play our best we still have a possibility of winning the championship.
Much like Newman, the Bulldogs enter the tournament as a 16th seed. Their first round game Friday night is against Giles County, the defending state champion and a team that has won 25 straight games.
“We’re taking him (Newman) and using it as an ‘anything can happen, anything’s possible,’” said Nigel Preston, the team’s nose guard. “It doesn’t matter about winning. What matters is effort and how well you play.”
Kicker Emily Martin, who beat Newman in the kicking portion of the Punt, Pass and Kick contest during his visit, said that Newman played a role in the team getting to the playoffs.
“The fact that he was the underdog and we are the underdog, we can compare ourselves to him,” she said. “We used him as inspiration to get to the playoffs, to play hard and to get the points that we needed to get there.”
While a football game only lasts four quarters, the players will take what they learned from Newman and apply it to life off the gridiron, as well.
“It goes along with life too,” Toole said. “Because if you try hard and give it your best you have a chance to go far and be the best you can, in life.”
This year's event is the largest shootout yet as well as the largest event the complex has ever hosted with 70 teams registered from NC & VA. Teams are coming from as far as Northern Virginia, Raleigh, Charlotte, and Richmond. Hotels in Martinsville- Henry County will be packed and restaurants, and other area businesses will feel the effect of a projected attendance of well over 2,500 visitors to the area. Boys and Girls ages 8 - 18 will compete with their families watching on.
There of course is also a local draw with the shootout as there are 12 PYSL teams participating in variety of age groups. This event is a fundraiser for the PYSL and is the culmination of the fall travel and academy seasons. "This event has become an established tournament in Virginia bringing in several different teams each year from all over" says Enda Crehan, Director of Coaching for the PYSL. "Our teams have gotten much better over the years, competing at a high level at other events and I expect them to compete on all levels at our home event. The academy or PYA program has really helped develop our travel teams at a young age and it is really showing up on the field and in the results" says Crehan.
In addition to the 9 fall travel teams competing from the PYSL there will also be a Boys U10 and Girls U10 team made up of fall PYA participants. "This event gives the academy teams a chance to compete at a high level with teams from outside the area and prepare them for the travel program" says Crehan. There is also a U12 Recreation all-star team from the PYSL recreation program that will be competing.
The SRSC and PYSL have contracted the services of National Soccer Events (NSE) out of Knoxville, TN to run the shootout this year. NSE has several years experience with organizing events all over the southeast and they will handle all onsite duties for the event. "We are thrilled to have an efficient and productive tournament organizer this year with NSE. With the growth of the PYSL programs over the years it is only fitting that the club's signature event also is growing", Billy Russo, Director of Operations for the Smith River Sports Complex and PYSL Board Member. "The shootout gives a chance for the PYSL travel teams and the program as a whole to showcase their talent, program, and their facility", says