By Joseph Robertia
Delaney Smith, a petite 8-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and blue nail polish standing easily a foot shorter than her competitors, looked more ready for a Battle of the Books than a battle on the court. It was a tall task for a small fry when she approached the foul line on the basketball court Saturday.
In the gymnasium of Soldotna Prep, dozens of kids ages 8 to 13 met to compete for the second tier of competition in the annual Elks Hoop Shoot Competition.
“She already won one,” said Delaney’s mother, Kim Smith, referring to the first tier of competition that took place at the school level, where Delaney was among the best of the best from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School.
Despite her compact size, she took the ball — larger than her own head — with confidence. She dribbled a few times, then heaved the orange sphere skyward, shot-putting it more than shooting it. Then, a swish. She did this over and over again during the 25 shots she, and each contender, were allotted.
“She’s watched basketball since she was in a car seat. Her brothers and sisters and cousins all play, and she plays through the Boys and Girls Club, so she shoots every single day,” Kim Smith said.
There were plenty of kids there about whom the same could be said, though, so how did the pint-sized girl become enough of a powerhouse to win her age division Saturday and move on the next tier of state-level competition?
“I think a lot of her success comes from playing with the older kids. We’ve always left the basket high for them, so she’s really used to it,” Smith said.
Returning for the second year was Drysta Crosby-Schneider, 11, who also won her age division at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary and was looking to improve on her overall standings in the competition from last season.
“She was third last year,” said her mother, Darnell Crosby-Schneider. “She really enjoyed it and played all summer long, shooting hoops outside.”
The practice paid off and Drysta moved up to second overall in her age division Saturday.
Evan Hatfield, the director of Saturday’s event, put on by Elks Lodge No. 2706, said that working to help kids better themselves was the point of his organization putting on the hoop shoot every year.
“This is a way for kids to express their talents with basketball and us to help them,” he said.
The champions, one boy and one girl in each age group, will advance to the state championship, and from there could go on to compete in regional and potentially even the national competition. Regional winners also receive funding through Elks National to attend the finals in Springfield, Massachusetts, with a parent. The winners of the national finals receive a $60,000 college scholarship and have their names inscribed on plaques in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
While this may sound like a long shot for kids from such relatively tiny cities as Kenai or Soldotna, Hatfield said that just last season Jersey Truesdell, of Soldotna, won the competition for Alaska and for the Northwest Region for boys age 10-11, only being knocked off by a better shooter in the finals.
No matter how far Delaney may go this year, her mother said her daughter is gleaning essentials from basketball, such as coordination and confidence, and plans on encouraging her to go as far as she desires.
“It’s teaching her principles that will carry through her life,” Smith said. “So as much as she wants to do, she’ll do, and I’ll support her the whole way.”
Soldotna Elks Lodge No. 2706 Hoop Shoot results:
- Boys ages 8-9: 1st place, Brayden Taylor; 2nd place, Keagen Medina; 3rd place; Kyle Matson.
- Girls ages 8-9: 1st place, Delaney Smith; 2nd place, Kelly Trefon; 3rd place, Noelani Fullerton.
- Boys ages 10-11: 1st place, Cole Moore; 2nd place, Nathaniel Tanape; 3rd place, Kaidan Spies.
- Girls ages 10-11: 1st place, Autumn Fischer; 2nd place, Regan Evans; 3rd place, Mikayla Leadeng.
- Boys ages 12-13: 1st place, Carson Fischer; 2nd place, Chaz Bird; 3rd place, Zac Conrad.
- Girls ages 12-13: 1st place, Bailey Smith; 2nd place, Drysta Crosby Schneider; 3rd place, Shaeley Derleth.