Another Slam Dunk

There are few national contests that encourage kids to set a goal that pushes them to their limits by practicing, being persistent, and, most important, getting gritty during their formative years. There’s a program that engrains those attributes in our youth, and it’s the Elks National Hoop Shoot free-throw contest.

This year, the 72 National Finalists and their families made their way from cities like Silverton, Oregon, and Waynesboro, Virginia, to Chicago. Spending time in Chicago is always an adventure for these families, and the fun starts as soon as they touch down in the Windy City.

Upon arrival, the Finalists are welcomed to the Kids Zone where they pick up their prized trading cards, interact with the Regional Directors the BackBoard, and meet new friends who will also become their competitors in just two days.

Although shooting baskets is a big part of the Hoop Shoot, it’s not the only thing. The first night of the weekend is dedicated to Hoop Shoot Assists. This year, the Finalists and their families helped create nearly 100 no-sew fleece blankets that will be distributed to V.A. hospitals in Chicagoland. The families gathered around tables, exchanged stories, and helped us assist veterans.

The action-packed weekend continues even into the night before the contests. Finalists and their families spent a night that was out of this world at the Adler Planetarium. Not only were the views incredible, but this is another opportunity for Finalists and their families to unwind before the big day.

This year, the contests took place in Gentile Arena at Loyola University Chicago on April 21. Although Sister Jean couldn’t make it to the Finals, the Ramblers’ March Madness magic was in the air.

Every year, the Hoop Shooters dazzle with their ability to sink free throws, and this year was no exception. The day started strong during the 8- to 9-year-old contests. Anthony Thompson and Kaden Cowgill went head-to-head in a six-round shoot-off. After making 30 straight baskets, Anthony came out on top. He later made 10 more free throws during another shoot-off with the 12- to 13-year-old boys National Champion, Luke Sides, to take home the Getty Powell award for the boys division.

During the 8- to 9-year-old girls contest, Ava Kouri pulled ahead by one free throw to become the National Champion. In the 10- to 11-year-old boys division, the Cowgill reign continued as Camden Cowgill defeated Mason Arthur in a shoot-off to take home the championship. On the girl’s side, Kameryn Ketcham secured her national championship by making 23 of the 25 baskets, just one ahead of second place.

Finally, in the 12- to 13-year-old girls division, Bailey Finn earned her second national championship; she was also the top scorer in the 2014 8- to 9-year-old division. Bailey shot 24 of her 25 baskets, missing only her third shot of the Hoop Shoot season. Bailey had another incredible run in securing a third championship for the Finn family.

As the Getty Powell winners, Bailey and Anthony will join the Elks in San Antonio at the National Convention in July.

The weekend came to a close at the Night of Stars Awards Banquet where highlights from the weekend were shared and new ones were created. Retired WNBA All-Star Tamika Catchings was the keynote speaker. She gave a moving speech about struggling with her hearing disability while trying to become a basketball player in a league that didn’t exist yet.

Tamika was an inspiration to everyone in the room. She stayed to take pictures with the Finalists, families, and fans after the ceremony.

This year’s Hoop Shoot National Finals really was one for the books. Thank you to everyone who helped make the weekend possible, congratulations to all the Finalists, and we’ll see you next year! The Road to Chicago begins again in the fall, and we can’t wait to see what this next season of the Hoop Shoot brings.

The Elks have been developing gritty kids through the Hoop Shoot program for more than 46 years. In 2018-19, the Elks National Foundation allocated $1 million to fund the program.

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