By BOBBY PEPPER
For someone who's only 12, Paul White is a multi-talented individual.
The Tupelo teen is a straight-A student who aspires to be an obstetrician. He can play the violin and the piano and is learning to master the guitar and the saxophone. He enjoys playing sports, especially football.
White, however, will appear on national television next week because of another unique talent: blowing bubbles.
White is competing in the fourth annual National Bubble Blowing Contest Aug. 7 in New York City. White earned the trip by blowing a 19-inch bubble during a contest June 14 at the West Main Wal-Mart Supercenter.
The six youths who blew the biggest bubbles in local competitions were invited to compete in the national "blow off," which will be shown on NBC's "Today" show. The event is sponsored by Dubble Bubble gum company.
White, the son of Greg and Anna Pannell, is excited about traveling to New York to compete in the finals.
"There will be a lot more people watching me this time," he said. "There were only a few people around when I won."
White, who enters the seventh grade at Tupelo Middle School, blew away the local competition with a bubble produced from just two pieces of bubble gum. He said he will be allowed up to three pieces at next week's finals but will have a time limit in order to blow the bubble.
"I've been chewing three pieces to get used to it," he said.
The bubbles are measured with a scissors-like scale called a "bubble meter." White said the largest bubbles he's blown in preparation for next week have been around 14 inches. Even at that size, it's better than the 13-inch bubble blown by last year's national winner, Britney Radford of Tulsa, Okla.
White won the local competition in June, but it wasn't until early July that he found out he had qualified for the finals. The other competitors from Arizona, Arkansas, North Carolina, Georgia and Illinois also won contests at local Wal-Marts. The contest was open to youths ages 12 and under.
White's success is amazing considering how limited he is to chewing gum at home. His mother said she usually forbids gum and candy to be eaten to prevent White and his 3-year-old sister, Mackenzie, from getting cavities and to keep wrappers from littering the house.
"We're all surprised Paul can blow bubbles that big," Anna Pannell said. "I'm pretty strict about gum and candy in the house. But my mother-in-law gives it to him."
White's grandmother, Edith Pannell of Palmetto, said she understands why her daughter-in-law is strict about gum in her home. Still, she'd slip him a few pieces of gum when he visited.
"I've always thought that all kids ought to have some gum," she said. "So I've always bought him Dubble Bubble. I would give him gum and he would thank me. He's very polite. He'll thank you for anything."
Pannell said she believes her grandson will do well in the finals.
"He's blowing big bubbles now, but he doesn't really practice," she said. "He should do well. Paul is very good under pressure."
White is finding out blowing huge bubbles has its benefits. The blow-off winner receives a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond while the other finalists will each receive a $5,000 Savings Bond.
Dubble Bubble will also make a $5,000 donation in honor of the winner and $1,000 donations in honor of the other finalists to each of the nearest children's hospitals through the Children's Miracle Network.
All finalists and their guests will spend four days in New York City. White said the trip will allow him to enjoy some of his other interests.
"We plan to visit the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero, and we're going to see The Lion King' on Broadway," he said. "I'm looking forward to it."