Sullivan County Democrat
Callicoon, New York
January 24, 2014 Issue
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The Elks National Hoop Shoot brings out the best in young athletes as well as local lodges.

Going through hoops

Column by Ken Cohen
MONTICELLO — January 24, 2014 — I have spent my last two Saturdays attending the local and district levels of the Elks National Hoop Shoot Contest. First, let me give a shout out to all the volunteer members of the Liberty and Monticello Elks lodges that make this competition possible. The Liberty members put on a first-class show at the Liberty Middle School, supplying all the kids with t-shirts, using retired high school basketball referees Jerry Davitt and Kurt Sheibe as officials and having enough members on hand to assist with the rebounding of the balls for all participants before and during the competition. No child had to ever leave his mark to retrieve a ball. If you know anything about trying to make consecutive free throws, holding your spot and finding a rhythm is what it's all about.
All in all, the Liberty members went out of their way to make the day feel special for all the kids.
I have to hand it to the Monticello Lodge as well. On a snowy morning with terrible road conditions, some seven to eight members made it to Sullivan County Community College to administer the District competition.
And both lodges provided refreshments, drinks and trophies for all the participants and their families back at their lodges after their respective Hoop Shoots.
As for the actual Hoop Shoot, it's very interesting to observe how young kids react to a competitive environment and feel (or don't feel pressure). Also, it's amazing how quick some of them are at picking up the little advantages that might separate them from the rest. For instance, at Sullivan County Community College, there was no indication of which basket the girls or boys would be shooting at. And there was a big difference in the backdrop of each basket – one was brighter with a net behind the backboard and the other was darker with a wall behind. Some kids (with urging from their parents) realized they better practice at both baskets while others seemed to just stay at one end.
At both sites, I watched several kids hit shot after shot in the warm-ups. They couldn't miss. Then, when the bell rang and the shots counted, they struggled. I'm not sure if they tensed up or just didn't handle the change in the surroundings. During the warm-ups, there is a lot of noise, all the kids are on the court and there is generally distractions all around.
But once the actual competition starts, it's just the shooter flanked by some of the officials. The parents sit in the bleachers and must remain quiet (no cheering allowed). There is usually one girl at one basket and one boy at the other. All the other kids are sitting down and the gymnasium is stone silent except for the sound of the basketball bouncing and hitting the basket. I was talking to one of the Elks members at Liberty and we were saying that these kids will never shoot a free throw in an actual game with the same conditions.
Anyway, some kids count every basket that their fellow competitors are making and know exactly where they stand. Others don't want to know. I don't think there is any proof either way which is better – in my daughter's case, she knew she was tied after the first 10 shots at the Districts and that seemed to make her bear down for the final 15 shots.
There's no question the parents are more nervous than the kids. It's absolutely brutal to watch the shots go up, roll around the rim and fall out. You don't want to root against any kid, but you're counting and know precisely what it takes for your child to win.
All in all, it's very impressive to watch the kids perform, compete and also have fun with it. I watched one girl who didn't do so well approach her mom and dad with a smile after she finished. She didn't seem upset, just happy that she had the opportunity. And that's really what it's all about.

Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” appears every Friday.

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