On the surface, the Knights of Columbus Free Throw Championship this past Saturday was simply that: a friendly competition for boys and girls aged 10-14. But it also seemed so fitting that the event was staged at the St. Thomas More gymnasium in Chapel Hill.
After all, what do foul shots represent to the game of basketball if not absolution for the offender and redemption, even vindication, for the righteous? Given that, scores seem almost, well, beside the point.
That’s why, taking nothing away from the excellence and accuracy of the event winners, mind you, perhaps the defining moment of the award ceremony following the competition was the confession by Nicholas DeMasi that he’d been mistakenly identified as a runner-up winner in his age group, sacrificing his brief brush with celebrity for what was right and honest.
Now in his seventh year as basketball coach at St. Thomas More, event director John Aluise said that DeMasi was to be recognized for his honesty alongside other winners at a morning meeting the following day.
“I am going to give Nicholas DeMasi a basketball tomorrow for the ‘Sportsmanship Award because of his forthright comments when he was mistakenly mentioned as a runner-up,” Aluise said late Saturday.
Each competitor had 15 attempts to make good at the “Council” level competition Saturday morning. Those making the highest number of shots claimed the title for their respective age group and will advance to District level competition to be held in several weeks and possibly even the state, national and international rounds later this season.
Boys and girls aged 10 and 11 used a women’s regulation-sized basketball and shot from a 12-foot foul line. Older age groups shot from the regulation 15-foot foul line, with girls shooting a women’s basketball and boys shooting a regulation men’s ball.
“At today’s competition, kids shot 15 shots,” Aluise explained, “and at the Districts and States, they shoot 25 free throws. There are five one-year age groups for both girls and boys aged 10-14.”
The Knights of Columbus have sponsored the annual International Free Throw Championship since 1972 to provide a rewarding activity that yields a chance for local, state and international recognition, the organization’s website ( www.kofc.org) stated. Last year more than 120,000 sharpshooters participated in over 3,600 local competitions.
The Knights of Columbus (KofC) is an international Catholic family fraternal service organization with over 1.8 million members in 14,500 local councils. Last year, the Knights donated over 70 million volunteer hours and $162 million to charitable and benevolent causes, sponsoring projects to benefit their church, councils, communities, culture of life, families and youth.
“This is an annual event for the Knights of Columbus,” Aluise said, “and I’ve been doing it here at St. Thomas More for around the last five years. They’ve probably been doing it for as long as there’s been a K of C chapter here, but now that we have a nicer gym, we’ve been able to do it in a nicer facility. For a couple years we actually held it outside.”
Aluise said the turnout has been fairly steady through the years.
“We’ve had between 20 and 30 kids out each year,” he said, “and I think we’ll have around 20 kids this year too. I publicized it through park and recreation, and that helped, and I also got a couple calls from people seeing it in the (Chapel Hill News) newspaper. Promoting it in the community really helped.”
Aluise said the talent on display Saturday was typical of the athletes who have moved through the hallowed halls at St. Thomas More en route to greatness.
“Liz Layne is competing today, and she’s starting at Jordan High School as a freshman,” he said, “and we’ve also had several kids start at Cardinal Gibbons High School; Oliver Lynch-Daniels is starting at Gibbons, Sean Stankavage isn’t playing basketball, but he played football at Gibbons, and they’ve all done this.”
Winning the 10-year-old boys’ bracket was Jack Corley, while Georgia Sobocinski was tops among girls in that same division.
“I did okay,” Sobocinski said. “I just tried to get my hand behind the ball and use my (shooting) hand.”
Hayden Cody captured the 11-year-old Boys top prize. Past state champion Tyler Tachman earned gold again in the Boys’ 12-year-old division, while Sarah Layne was atop the podium among 12-year-old girls. Georgia’s older brother Jackson Sobocinski won the 13-Boys crown, and Taylor Fulton was tops among the 13-Girls. Sarah Layne’s older sister Jordan High varsity basketball freshman standout Liz Layne took the Girls’ 14-year-old title.
“I came through St. Thomas More, and that’s how I learned about this competition,” Liz Layne said. “I’ve done this the past two years. Last year, I was second in the state, and then the year before, I lost in the states. I won my age group today; I went 10 for 15.”
Layne said her coach at Jordan would applaud her success from the charity stripe Saturday morning.
I’m sure he’d be happy,” she said, chuckling, “because during this high school season my percentage has not been the best.”
Runner-up winners included Connor Dunn, Christopher Holliday, Adam Lee, Kevin O’Donnell and Gloria Lima.
“I got 9 out of 15, and that was second place behind the winner’s 11 out of 15,” said Lee, who added that he’d relax and take a little more time if he had the chance to move on to District competition.
Also competing well at the event were Jack Snyder, Sean O’Donnell, Patrick Butler, Dylan Look, Connor Oathout, Christian Baudet, Carlos Lima, Joseph Musso, Connor Fulton, Reilly Jordan, Nicholas DeMasi, Luke Prokop and Jeffrey Marcin.
Exact dates and the location for the District round of competition has yet to be announced.
“This Council Tournament is usually in January,” Aluise explained, “the District is in February, and the States are in March. We’re still waiting to hear where the Districts will be. We’ll notify today’s winners, and if they can’t make it to the Districts, the runner-up winners will compete.”
In the meantime, there’s nothing standing between these shooters and their hoop dreams but practice.
“I’m going to keep practicing keeping my right hand behind the ball,” Georgia Sobocinski said, “and hopefully, I’ll get it to ‘swish.’”