Bouts of spirited hardwood competition have traditionally highlighted the Rim Country Elks Hoop Shoot.
None of the shootouts, however, have been more exciting than the 2002 event that featured two youngsters who are now Payson High School juniors.
In the finals of the 12- to 13-year old age group, Jason Sweet and Hunter Hardt, then members of the Rim Country Middle School seventh-grade basketball team, locked horns in a best-of-25 free throw competition.
Their accuracy, which included sinking 19 of their 25 shots, would have swelled NBA star Shaquille O'Neal's chest with pride.
Due to the tie, Elks officials opted for a sudden death tiebreaker in which each boy was awarded five free throw attempts.
In the nail-biting overtime, Hardt emerged victorious by making good on all five attempts. Sweet cashed in on four.
During the morning, Hardt had made good on 24 of 30 shots and Sweet cashed in on 23 of 30.
It was one of the most hotly contested hoop shoots in the history of the program.
Hardt now plays for the Longhorn basketball team and Sweet is a standout on the PHS baseball squad.
Some other Elk Hoop Shoot age/sex group champions who have gone on to athletic success at PHS include Caitlin Fruth, Robert Neumann, Christina Deaton and Kayla O'Donnell.
Rim Country youngsters will have the opportunity to enjoy some of the same memories Sweet, Hardt and other past champions now relish when the 2005 edition of the Elks Hoop Shoot is held Dec. 3 in the Tonto Apache Reservation gymnasium.
Boys and girls ages 8 to 13 are eligible to compete in the free event, but must bring proof of age to participate.
The 8- to 9-year-old shoot begins at 9 a.m., youngsters 10 to 11 compete at 10 a.m. The day wraps up with the 12- to 13-year competition at 11 a.m.
Age groups are determined by ages as of April 1, 2006.
According to Elks officials, more than three million youngsters from all 50 states compete in the shoot annually.
According to contest rules, all contestants are allowed 10 minutes of warm-up time, followed by five practice free throws. Then, each contestant shoots 10 free throws. After all the youngsters have completed their initial 10 shot attempts, they are given 15 additional shots to complete the 25 tabulated for the official score.
Winners are determined by the most successful shot attempts. In case of ties, as occurred in 2002, five additional shots are awarded to determine first, second and third places in each of the sex/age divisions. In the 8- to 9-year-age competition, the smaller youth ball is used. In the two older boys' divisions, contestants shoot the regulation-size high school ball. The older girls' divisions use the high school girls' official ball.
The six Payson Elks Lodge champions, one boy and one girl in each age group, are eligible to participate in the Elks district competition. Most district contests have from five to 12 lodge champions competing against one another. The six finalists in each district contest earn the right to participate in the state contest. State winners are awarded berths in the national finals.
The names of the national champions are displayed at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Elks officials tout the hoop shoot program as one that provides a constructive, character-building experience that is "free from outside influence of parents, coaches or teammates."
Elks officials urge participants to show up on time for the event. Late competitors will not be allowed to participate.
For more information, call Frank Patch at (928) 474-8033.