ALLIANCE — The first football Essence Blue threw toward the standing plywood board bounced off the top.
The second football sailed through a two-foot opening and clanged off the boxing bag harness that was holding up the plywood.
The third one missed left. Then a make. Miss. Make. Miss. Then, Blue made three in a row.
After 30 seconds, Blue had whipped 23 balls at the board, 15 flying through the opening. It matched her personal best.
On Friday, Blue, a sophomore at the University of Mount Union, will be heaving footballs toward a human size Dr Pepper can for a chance to take a step closer to winning $100,000 through Dr Pepper’s Tuition Giveaway contest.
She’ll be competing against three others in the semifinals Friday: A University of Kansas engineering student, a South Plains College engineering student and a Michigan State University medical student.
If Blue scores among the top two, she will move onto the finals Saturday, which will be nationally televised during halftime of ACC Football Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C. Blue is guaranteed $2,500 for being a finalist.
Dr Pepper chose Blue and the other 19 finalists after reviewing videos each submitted that told the company why they needed the financial assistance.
Blue, a 2017 Alliance High School graduate, taped her video submission while walking in Silver Park in Alliance. During the video, she talks about how she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, but discovered that she wanted to be an intervention specialist after her cousin was diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy. He underwent brain surgery at the age of 7.
“After seeing the impact that intervention specialists had on my cousin who suffers from severe epilepsy, I recognized the difference it made on him and his family,” she says in the video. “I would like to make that same powerful impact on other students and their families. Being an intervention specialist gives me the opportunity to change the world one child at a time.”
Blue said the scholarship will help relieve the additional stress that comes with paying for college.
“I’m paying for it myself,” said Blue, who also works at Heggy’s Confectionery in Alliance. “It would take a lot off my shoulders.”
Calling in the pros
To practice for the toss, Blue and her mother went to Lowe’s to buy a large piece of plywood to replicate the oversized Dr Pepper can that will be used in the finals.
“We didn’t have a truck and we couldn’t get (the plywood) into our little Nissan,” she said. “My mom tracked down some guys in a van in the Lowe’s parking lot and asked them if they could take it to the house. They were nice enough to do it. It worked out.”
Blue started practicing alone in her unheated garage, using a lawnmower to hold up the board and footballs that Alliance High School allowed her to borrow. (Mount Union’s football team still is in the playoffs.)
Then, she contacted Molly Reed for help. Reed, whose maiden name is Brown, won the Dr Pepper football toss in 2013 using what was then considered an unconventional throwing style. The former Walsh University and Louisville High School student used a two-handed chest pass to sink in 18 footballs and win the $100,000 scholarship.
“It’s changed my life,” said Reed, now a registered nurse at Akron Children’s Hospital working with school-age patients. “I got my dream job.”
Reed and her father, Bob Brown, were on hand Wednesday as Blue practiced at the bottom of a stairwell inside Mount Union’s McPherson Academic and Athletic Complex.
Blue developed a modified method where she pulls the ball back slightly to her right side before launching it.
“I never played basketball so it’s my unique way of doing a chest pass,” said Blue, a former Alliance High School cheerleader.
Reed told Blue to enjoy every minute that she’s in Charlotte.
“It’s a day you’ll never forget,” she said.
Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @kweirREP.