In just a month, the NCAA will kicks off its annual college basketball tournaments to determine their national champions in what has come to be known as “March Madness.”
These past two months, Knights of Columbus councils everywhere are sponsoring what might as well be called “Free Throw Madness” as they conduct local free-throw shooting competitions for boys and girls aged from 9 to 14.
It’s a tradition that has been going on since 1972 with strong encouragement from the Supreme Council. In recent years, some 120,000 youngsters have participated in more than 3,600 local competitions. It all begins in January with contests at the council level, and winners at each age and gender division advance to district, chapter and state competitions.
The competition is open to all kids – not just sons and daughters of Knights, not just Catholic school children, and not just Catholics, emphasized Roman R. Bejarano, who is Free Throw Contest Chairman for the California State Council.
“They don’t have to be Catholic students to represent their councils,” Bejarano said. “You have a lot of public schools available to form the council free throw competition.”
Working through schools is the best strategy for pulling in participants, state chairmen find.
“The most successful councils are now working with their local schools to have the kids shoot either during the school day or immediately after school is over,” said Conrad Meier, Minnesota’s state chairman for the competition. “Many of the schools have faculty who have competed in the contest when they were kids who will support a contest.”
The contest itself is simple. Each competitor is permitted three practice shots and then attempts 15 free throws. In case of a tie within a division, five-shot tiebreakers are conducted until a clear victor emerges. (Ages 9-11 shoot from a 12-foot line, while ages 12-14 shoot from the regulation 15-foot line. Women’s regulation basketballs are used for all except the boys’ 12-14 divisions.)
The program began with contests for kids ages 10 to 14, with 9-year-olds added to the mix just a few years ago. Some councils have also expanded the program to include competitions for older boys and girls. In California, for example, they’ve added a “Three Point Shoot Off” for young people ages 15 to 18, whereby competitors attempt three shots from each of five positions behind the three-point arc.
It’s all in the spirit of encouraging youths through healthy competition – and it helps raise awareness about the Order locally as well.
“The competition between the young adults provides and focuses on discipline required to achieve athletic excellence,” Bejarano said. “It helps to develop character and faith within each young person. In addition, healthy competition helps young people to handle adversity with dignity and grace.
“This is a great way to introduce the Knights to your community,” he added.
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