GATES — Gina Hitzfield takes a series of actions before attempting a free throw.
“I spin the ball,” she said. “I bounce it once. I have my left foot in front of my right. I bend my knees together — then I push up and follow through.”
It’s a technique the 12-year-old girl used to make 16 out of 30 attempts during the Knights of Columbus Finger Lakes Chapter Free Throw Competition Feb. 25 at St. Jude Parish’s gymnasium. Basketball is one of her favorite sports, she noted.
“You get to be aggressive,” she said. “You get to use your body.”
Tyler Kirton, 10, attends St. Andrew School in Rochester and said he enjoyed participating in the competition. His father, Shondell Kirton, noted that he coaches Catholic Youth Organization basketball at St. Andrew Parish and gave his son some tips before the competition.
“I told him to bend his knees, follow through and keep square with the basket,” Kirton said. “That was pretty much it.”
More importantly, by playing basketball, his son is learning lessons he can carry through life, Kirton said.
“It keeps him active,” he said. “It teaches him discipline, time management, responsibility and teamwork.”
The competition was open to boys and girls ages 10 through 14, and drew 29 boys and 19 girls from throughout the Diocese of Rochester, according to Robert Keown of Trinity Council No. 4618 in Webster. Keown cochaired the event with Thomas O’ Hare of Council No. 10758. The Finger Lakes Chapter comprises 44 Knights councils that span the diocese, Keown said.
The Feb. 25 competition was the second in a five-part series of free-throw contests the Knights sponsored across New York state, starting with council competitions in January; district competitions in early February; then the chapter shoot-outs. The winners of the chapter competitions will display their free-throw prowess at the Upstate Regional Final at Bishop Ludden High School in Syracuse March 18. The state final is slated for April 1 at West Point Military Academy, Keown said.
Following the April 1 competition, the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus will compare the scores of the state winners against those of youngsters who’ve won Knights-sponsored free-throw competitions throughout the world in order to determine an international winner, Keown added. The competition is open to any youngsters, Catholic or not, and there’s no entry fee, he said.
At the St. Jude chapter competition, the following girls won in their age categories: Alexa Antetomaso of Christ the King Church, Irondequoit, age 10; Emily Geen of St. Joseph Parish, Penfield, age 11; Gina Pursati of St. Michael Church, Lyons, age 12; Bridgette Sutryk, age 13, of St. Catherine of Siena Church, Addison; and Rachael Dougherty of Holy Family Junior High School in Elmira, age 14.
The following boys won in their age categories: William Mammoliti of St. Jude, age 10; M.J. Erb of Farmington, age 11; Alex Tanea, age 12; Matthew Borelli of St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Greece, age 13; and Darin Carter of Victor, age 14.
Rachael Dougherty made 18 out of 25 free throws then 22 out of 30 free throws to clinch the age 14 category for girls. When asked what her secret was, she noted that she practices every day and advised aspiring free-throw shooters to do the same.
“Keep working at it,” she said. “Don’t give up.”
Gary Rigoni, athletic director at St. Jude whose daughter, Amanda, competed in the age 11 category, said he thought competition was a healthy test for youngsters.
“You can take all the shots you want in practice, but when it comes to a competitive situation, it’s a whole different ballgame,” he said.
While winning was obviously on the minds of the kids competing Feb. 25, even those who didn’t win had fun, as did their parents, such as Kathy Schneider of Cato, whose 10-year-old son, Joey, competed.
“I had a ball,” Schneider said as she and her son waited for a ride home. “I like to watch him play basketball. It gives us time together.”
O’Hare noted he enjoyed watching the youngsters test their skills.
“You do see some really smart-shot kids here,” he said.
Keown said the competition gives the youngsters a memorable experience.
“It’s good experience for them to shoot with other kids,” he said.