The 49ers haven’t been shut out of the postseason entirely.
Mya Sanchez, an 11-year-old from Turlock, is the team’s lone representative in the finals of the NFL’s annual punt, pass and kick competition this weekend in Indianapolis.
She got there with a little help from her former neighbor, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The NFL will fly each entrant plus one adult to the finals. Kaepernick bought plane tickets so Sanchez’s entire family – Mya’s parents and two younger brothers – could go.
“We never asked,” Mya’s father, Phil Sanchez, said in a phone interview. “He just always likes to support the local kids.”
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The Kaepernicks have known Mya from the moment she was born.
Phil Sanchez said he remembered being in the Modesto hospital with his wife 11 years ago and announcing he was going to step out for a newspaper. He is a counselor at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock – which had only recently opened – and the school was about to play Turlock High in football for the first time.
As he turned to leave, one of the nurses said she’d like to look at the sports section so she could read about the upcoming game.
“And I looked at her and wondered, ‘Why does this lady really care about this game in Turlock? We’re 20 miles away.’ ” Sanchez said. “Nobody had even heard of Pitman yet. It was the second year of the school. It was 4 o’clock in the morning, and that’s the first thing she was asking about.”
The nurse was Teresa Kaepernick, whose son, Colin, was Pitman’s quarterback. She and Sanchez talked about football for the next 45 minutes.
“And my wife’s got labor pains going, ‘Hey, I’m delivering a baby over here!’ ” Sanchez said.
It turns out both families have a child with a powerful right arm.
Mya first participated in the NFL’s long-running competition when she was in second grade. The teacher who organizes the event at her elementary school, Aimee Hendrix, encouraged her to take part.
“She said, ‘You’re really athletic; you should do it,’ ” Mya said. “And I said, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ After that, I liked it and kept going.”
Mya won at the local level that year and went on to win at the sectional level – held in Sacramento for her region – and at the team level. And she’s made it to the team stage the last five years. But this is the first time she’s been among the top four in her category among all the team-level participants, the requirement for moving on to the national stage.
Mya, the 49ers’ representative, is competing in the 10-to-11-year-old girls category against representatives of the Bears, Broncos and Titans. The Raiders have two: Chloe Gonzales in 6-7 girls and Brock Diano in 8-9 boys.
Scores are based on distance and accuracy of punts, passes and kicks. Attempts that veer off are subtracted from the distance. So if a participant throws a pass 50 feet but it goes 10 feet off course, the score for that category is a 40.
Mya said her weakness probably is punting, but she said she likes her chances.
After all, the conditions during the team-level competition in Santa Clara the morning of the 49ers-Cardinals game Nov. 29 weren’t ideal. The temperature was in the 40s, and the footing wasn’t great for throwing or kicking.
Some of her competitors in other parts of the country went through that stage indoors, yet Mya’s scores measured up.
“I feel good because the girls are all in my age group,” she said. “And I competed on a cold day. I used those hand-warmer things to keep my hands from freezing so they could grip the ball.”