For decades, the Payson Elks Lodge Hoop Shoot was among the highlights on the Rim Country’s youth sports scene.
But for unknown reasons, participation dropped off over the past three years and winners in all age groups were not crowned.
The demise in popularity of the shoot prompted 2011 tournament director Jack Cook to take corrective action to be sure hardwood hopefuls from around northern Gila County have the opportunity to compete.
“I called coaches at all the (elementary and junior high) schools, got word out to home schooled students and let people know that everyone is welcome,” said Cook, whose best hope is that when the free event returns Saturday, Nov. 5, it regains the same luster it once owned.
The 2011 shoot begins at 8 a.m. in the Tonto Apache gymnasium. The program is expected to continue until about noon.
Entrants should be at the gym well before the contest begins to complete registration.
There is no registration fee, and boys and girls ages 8 to 13 are invited to attend.
Entrants will compete in separate boys and girls age divisions. They are: 8-9 years, 10-11 years and 12-13 years.
All entrants must wear tennis or basketball shoes.
Officials say all contestants will be allowed 10 minutes to warm up and get acquainted with the floor and basket.
Some of the more memorable competitions were the 2002 and 2005 barnburners.
In the Elks 2002 finals, Jason Sweet and Hunter Hardt, who were then 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 sent tongues wagging in Tonto Apache Gym, mostly because the mark was better than many high school, college and professional players can put up.
As good as their accuracy was, things got even better after that.
Due to the tie, Elks officials opted for a sudden-death tiebreaker in which each boy received five free throw attempts. In the extra period, Hardt sunk all five and Sweet was successful on four.
By the time the excitement had settled down, the two had turned in one of the finest shooting performances in the history of the local Elks program.
Hardt went on to play as a senior on the Longhorn state runner-up basketball team. Sweet turned his interest to baseball and, as a senior in 2007, was one of the Longhorns’ best players.
Another Hoop Shoot nail-biter unfolded three years later in the 10- and 11-year-old boys division. After the first round of 25 shots, Jeffrey Kelley and Jimmy Zimmer were dead-knotted, causing Elks officials to call this time for a 10-shot overtime.
In OT, Kelley claimed the championship by the narrowest of possible margins — a single successful shot.
In the entire contest, Kelley sank 16 of his 35 attempts and Zimmer made good on 15 of 35.
Each contestant receives five warm-up shots and then will shoot 10 more for score.
It is the duty of the line judge to inform the contestant and the scorers when he or she is shooting for a score.
Upon completing their warm-up shots and 10 shots for score, the contestant then goes to the end of the line until the remaining contestants have completed their warm-ups and 10 shots. After the first round, contestants will shoot 15 shots to complete their 25 for a score.
Contestants cannot bounce the ball more than four times between shots. The penalty is the shot is void.
Contestants must stay behind the foul line until the ball has touched the hoop, backboard or net. The line violation penalty is loss of basket if made.
Taking five additional shots in the same shooting order as the regular contest will break ties. If still tied, a series of five more shots will be made until first, second and third places are determined in each of the three age groups. All tied shots will be made at the same basket as the previous 25.
The Payson Elks Lodge champions will be eligible to participate in the Elks district competition on a date and location to be announced soon. 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.