Young sharpshooters of the Diocese of Trenton looking to lace up their sneakers, don their favorite NBA player’s jersey and launch a basketball toward a hoop will have their chance in January when the 46th annual Knights of Columbus Free Throw Championship begins at the local council level.
The competition, created by the international Catholic fraternal organization in 1972, invites boys and girls from 9 to 14 years old to compete against others in their age and gender groups. At the local council level, each competitor toes the foul line, takes three warm-up shots, then arcs the ball 15 times toward the hoop 15 feet away.
Winners in each age group progress to the district level, then on to compete in the Trenton Diocese finals where they get 25 chances to hear the coveted “swish.” The field is further winnowed to send only the top scoring boy and girl in each age group, one from each New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses, to compete for the state trophies.
The Knights of Columbus estimates 350,000 athletes participate in local rounds nationwide each year. Knights of Columbus Trenton Diocese free throw chairman John A. Gazis noted the event is more than just a sports competition.
“The children make new friends during the competition and root for one another,” Gazis said. “They show sportsmanship and congratulate each other, and it becomes a character-building event.”
Local councils’ contests are ongoing through January, with district shoot-outs planned in February. The diocesan-level free throw championship is scheduled for mid-March, while state finals are slated for April. For dates, locations and competition rules, consult with your local Knights of Columbus council.
In the 2017 tournament, Trenton Diocese winners hailed from eight different parishes. Evangeline Leung of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, and Nicholas Carmino of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, won their respective 9-year-old divisions; Morgan O’Sullivan of St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft, and Michael Stanton of St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, placed first in the 10-year-old groups; Marissa Mongan of Resurrection Parish, Delran, and Danny Morolda of St. Mary Parish, Bordentown, won the 11-year-old divisions; Kara Ryan of Resurrection Parish and Patrick Maloney of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, took the 12-year-old brackets; Dana Keifer of St. Paul Parish, Princeton, and Michael Sparaco of St. Mary Parish, Barnegat, were victorious in the 13-year-old divisions; and Giovanni Gallo of St. Clement Parish, Matawan, who had been a 2016 tournament victor in the 13-year-old division, won among 14-year-olds. No 14-year-old girls competed in the 2017 tournament at the Diocesan level.