The 12- to 13-year-old boys division competition at the Elks Hoop Shoot Saturday morning in Tonto Apache gymnasium turned into a display of free throw shooting accuracy that would make Shaquille O'Neal proud.
In the finals, Jason Sweet and Hunter Hardt both members of the Rim Country Middle School seventh-grade basketball team locked horns in a best-of-25 free throw competition.
Both youngsters were successful on 19 of their 25 shots. Their 76 percent shooting averages were better than many high school, college and professional players maintain.
And things got even better after that.
Due to the tie, Elks officials opted for a sudden death tie-breaker in which each boy would be awarded five free throw attempts. In that go-around, Hardt sunk all five and Sweet was successful on four.
Following his narrow win, Hardt attributed his hot shooting to the many practice hours the Maverick team spends shooting free throws.
With the victory, Hardt and the other age-division winners have earned the right to advance to the district finals to be held tomorrow (Feb. 2) in Winslow.
Hardt has said he intends to participate in Winslow and will prepare by devoting even more practice time to his free throw shooting.
Other winners in the boys division included Valentino Doka (8- to 9-year-olds) and Cody Waterman (10- to 11-year-olds). Eldon Siverson was second among the 8- to 9-year-olds and Jared Udall was runner-up in the 10- to 11-year-old division.
In the girls competition, the champions included Emily Judd (8- to 9-year-olds), Christina Denton (10- to 11-year-olds) and Kaylee Talgo (12- to 13-year-olds). Runners-up were Kayla O'Donnell (10- to 11-year-olds) and Nicole Robichaud (12- to 13-year-olds).