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Show Me the Heat

by Billy Donnelly
Youth Programs Associate

A contestant shoots a free throw during the competition.
While low temperatures afflict most of the United States in January and February, things are really starting to heat up for the Hoop Shoot. In gyms all across the country, Hoop Shoot contestants have been competing in state contests--another stop on the road to Chicago.

This year I had the privilege of attending the Missouri State Hoop Shoot contest, just outside of St. Louis. Randy Eaton has been the Show-Me State’s Director for more than 30 years, but after all that time, you can tell he has not lost his fire and passion for the program.

I left a looming snow storm in Chicago, happily heading south to help out with Randy’s event. It didn’t take long after my arrival before we could start to get to work. The hotel was practically ready to go—a Holiday Inn with an arcade and a large indoor pool meant that the 48 best free-throw shooters in Missouri weren’t going to have to go far to have some fun.

Randy took me to go help set up for the Awards Banquet at Eureka-Pacific, Mo., Lodge No. 2644. Exalted Ruler Ron Kurtz warmly greeted us when we arrived. He was so excited to be hosting all of the Hoop Shoot contestants the next day, along with the Missouri State Association President. The Lodge banquet hall had already been set up to seat more than 200 people. Before long, we were joined by a few other Missouri volunteers, including Jason Eaton. Jason is not only Randy’s son, but a 1981 National Finalist—he has been helping stoke the fire in his dad ever since.

We ate dinner at the Lodge—a pork steak, which is not only a classic St. Louis BBQ dish, but just so happened to be the size of a basketball! With full stomachs, we put together trophies, pumped up basketballs, and made sure everything was ready for the next day.

The gym was cold as we arranged chairs and taped the 8-9-year-old line the following morning. The contestants, however, were not. During warm-ups, shot after shot went through the net. As I helped rebound, I knew we were going to be in for a good contest. Finally, it was time. The gym temperature had risen with the packed rows of bleachers filled with family and friends. Everyone was excited to see some sparks. The contestants did not disappoint.
Participants gather excitedly before the contest begins.

Swish after swish, shoot-off after shoot-off, the contest was full of excitement. It was such a rush. Getting out of the office and seeing a contest in action always helps reignite the fire inside me and is a great reminder for why we do what we do. Before I knew it, the contest was over. Six champions were all that remained of the initial 48. It was a great show.

Luckily, I get to see those six Missouri State Champions compete at least one more time, because on March 9, I head to Paris, TN for the Region 9 contest. Make sure to follow me on Twitter at @ElksBilly for live updates on Saturday, March 10. I’m excited to see how these six Missouri champs will fare against contestants from Arkansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. But if there is anything that I learned from my experience, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of Missouri!

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