After an absence of two years, the Sikeston Elks has decided to reinstate the "Hoops Shoot" program.
Justin Medley, in his first year as the program organizer, said, "The 'Hoops Shoot' has been successful everywhere, so there was pressure to get it going again here.
In the past, there had been conflicts with other youth leagues, YMCA and church leagues, concerning facilities and scheduling. I talked to the YMCA director and the commissioner of the church league and we were able to work it out."
The "Hoops Shoot," which began in 1972, is the largest and most visible of the many youth activities sponsored by the Elks Lodge and is expected to draw more than three million boys and girls throughout the country.
Since its inception, more than 100 million boys and girls have competed.
Participants will compete in three age groups: 8-9, 10-11 and 12-13, with the winners -- boys and girls divisions -- advancing to the district competition in Jackson.
District winners have an opportunity to advance to state, regional and national competition.
All local participants will receive a prize for competing. The top two boys and girls in each age group will receive a trophy.
National winners are honored with their names enshrined on a plaque at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Inscribed on that plaque is the name Ben Bryant, a Sikeston native who won the 8-9-year-old boys national championship in 1986. Bryant, 27, was eight at the time.
He sank 24 of 25 in the final round which placed him in a two-way tie.
In a 10-shot shootoff, Bryant hit them all to edge his opponent, who missed one.
Of his experience, Bryant said, "At the time, I didn't realize what it was all about, but it is something that I'm definitely proud of. I consider it an honor to have my name in there with the likes of some of the great players in this country.
Bryant also spoke of the dedication necessary to become a champion and how that has carried over into his life. "During that time, I used to shoot 200-300 free throws every day," he said.
"Looking back on that now, the philosophy that I used then, consistent practice and hard work, is the same philosophy I use today in whatever I do. It takes that extra effort to be successful, knowing that there are others out there working just as hard.
"That's what I took from the Elks Hoop Shoot. No matter what you do in life, to be successful, you've got to put in the time and pay the price."
Bryant is the only Missouri boy to have won the national competition, but the state has produced four girls champions: Paula Corder of Ellington (1991, 12-13 age group), Tiffany Taylor of Fairfax (1994, 10-11 age group), April Redus of Gatewood (1996, 8-9 age group) and Lindsey Maple of Knob Noster (1999, 12-13 age group).
Each competitor shoots 25 free throws for a score, with concessions for age and gender.
Boys and girls, ages 8-9, will shoot four feet in front of the foul line and use a girls-sized 28.5"-diameter basketball.
Girls, ages 10-11 and 12-13, will shoot from the foul line and use the girls ball, while boys, ages 10-11 and 12-13, will shoot from the foul line with a regulation-size ball.
The competition is free and the Elks provide travel accommodations for advancing contestants and their parents.
Win or lose, the goal of the Elks, as stated in their media guide, "is to give youngsters an opportunity for spirited competition, fine relationships with their peers and travel statewide, regionally and nationally."