558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
Ochoco physical education instructor Jeremy McLean and Kevin Sanchez stand in the Ochoco Gym, where Sanchez won first place in his first round of free throws for the Elks’ Hoop Shoot.
“You have to keep your eyes on the hoop.”
These words of wisdom came from nine-year-old Kevin Sanchez, who went to the state level of competition for the annual Elks’ Free Throw Contest, also referred to as the Elks’ Hoop Shoot.
Sanchez, a fourth-grader at Ochoco Elementary, has played basketball since he was old enough to shoot the ball at the basket. As part of a large family of seven older brothers, Sanchez has had the benefit of being mentored by his siblings, of which three have played basketball for Crook County High School.
“All of my brothers play basketball,” he said.
Sanchez explained that when there are distractions coming from the audience, he has to stay focused. In his local free throw competition, he won first place, swishing 24 out of 25 baskets. At the district level in January, he also gained a first place, with 18 out of 25 baskets. He pushed on to the state level, and although he didn’t make it to Regionals, he still made 13 out of 25 baskets and placed seventh.
Jeremy McLean is the physical education instructor for Ochoco Elementary, and he has been working with all the grade levels in basketball. Just before spring break, the fifth-graders play against all the staff in an inter-school basketball game. He added that Sanchez looks forward to being part of this friendly competition next year.
“He has probably the most skill I have seen for his age so far,” McLean said of Sanchez.
He added that he coached three of Sanchez’s brothers in the high school, when he was coaching basketball.
“He has been in the gym since the time he could walk, and dribble, and he is always playing against them,” noted McLean. “He has a twin brother who is fourth grader too, who is also a pretty good basketball player. They look up to their older brothers.”
He said that the individual schools do the school competition during their P.E. classes. They take one winner for each age group, and those students then compete at Cecil Sly against the other schools.
The contest is broken down by three categories: ages 8-9, 10-11, and 12-13. More than 3 million boys and girls in the nation between 8 and 13 years of age participated in this year’s Hoop Shoot. Jim Bates, the local Hoop Shoot Director for the Southeast District of the Elks, said that the competition begins each year with local schools conducting on-site competitions, and the winners in each group go on to compete at the local lodge competition.
“This occurs in December, and then the winners from each county go on to the District Free Throw Competition,” said Bates. “Eight counties send their six winners in January to the district competition. Our Southeast Free Throw Competition is conducted in Prineville at Cecil Sly Elementary.”
The six winners are then eligible to go to the state competition in Salem and the regionals. The winners at the regionals go to the national competition — of which the winners have their names entered into the Basketball Hall of Fame every year.
The event began as a local Elk activity in Corvallis, Ore. in 1946. The national program grew out of the local program, with its first competition in 1971.
“The competition to become a champion is tough,” commented Bates of the competition. “At each level, a contestant takes a total of 25 free throws. National finalists average around 90 percent each round of competition.”
Families travel with contestants throughout the competition. The parents of the finalists on the state, regional, and national levels attend the competitions as guests of the Elks.
“Many, many schools participate, and it has got a high participation rate,” commented Ochoco Principal David Robinson.
He added that to make it to the regional and state competition is a big deal. He added that the atmosphere is quite tense during the free throw competition, and there are a lot of spectators. The participants have to be able to focus, and make 25 free throws in a row.
Robinson said that in addition to his basketball skills, Sanchez is a great soccer player.
“He is a wonderful athlete,” he said.
“The Elks Hoop Shoot has been effective not only in developing champions, but character as well,” said Bates. “Educators and parents have endorsed the program. One parent wrote, ‘It teaches a person how to win in good grace and how to accept the moment of defeat without bitterness…”’