OTTUMWA — Every bleacher in the Evans Middle School gym was packed with families gathered to watch the Elks’ Annual Hoop Shoot Free Throw Contest.
More than 70 kids ages 8 to 13 shot 25 free throws each for a total score. The top shooters in each age division then got the opportunity to advance to the Elks District Regional Hoop Shoot, scheduled for Jan. 18 at Oskaloosa. Winners at the regional advance to the national competition.
Shooting baskets while there are hundreds of people watching is a little different than what most participants were used to. Kids kept their eyes on the ball and did the best they could while trying to be positive.
Chad Willis, Elks member and co-organizer of the free throw contest, said helping to organize the event was worth seeing the children and families smile.
Getting the event to come together was no easy task. It involved asking the school if the gym could be used, asking for volunteers to help at the event, getting information from kids on age and create the list of participants. Overall, he loved the turnout and the people who came to volunteer.
“It’s nice to have the boys come [to volunteer],” Willis said, “to give some exposure to the younger kids that are going to be playing basketball.”
Kevin Sylvester, another organizer and Elks member, has been helping to organize the free throw contest for 15 years, choosing to do it for the children.
“It’s a great thing to do because you see all these kids out here, they’re all nervous,” Sylvester said. “They all have a great time so we do this and that. It’s always good to help kids. They’re excited about it.”
Sylvester’s own son participated in it many years ago and feels events like these can connect families.
Willis said a benefit to participating is the chance to win scholarship money once a kid makes it to the national level.
Sylvester said no kid from Ottumwa has ever been a national winner, but he hopes at the start of a new decade and year that it might change. No matter what happens, though, he will be proud of the kids.
“It’s always interesting to see who is going to go where,” Sylvester said. “They get so excited. The kids do it for fun. It’s nice to see everyone relax and smile and have a good time, kids have a great time.”