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Sycamore children show off free-throw talent

SYCAMORE - Imani Hillmer performed the best among the girls competing Saturday in the Sycamore Elks Lodge #1392 Hoop Shoot free throw contest.

Hillmer, whose father, Jeff Hillmer, is the former Sycamore High School boys basketball coach, made 19 out of 25 free throws. She said she and her brother, Jeffrey, the boys 8-9 winner, often compete against each other.  

“It’s 50/50, because we do different kinds of things when we play and we both have our strong points," she said. "He’s an all-around shooter, and I just do free throws.”

They were among 15 children ages 8 to 13 who participated in the competition Saturday morning at Sycamore High School. Overall, Jaden Zientek made the most free throws, connecting on 20 of 25.

Trophies were presented for the first three places in each age division (boys and girls), with the winner of each division advancing to the district competition Jan. 19 at Princeton High School.

“The Elks are about three things: Veterans, Youth, and Family,” explained Greg Prater of DeKalb, the “Exalted Ruler” of the Sycamore Lodge. “Not only do we do Hoop Shoot, but we also do drug awareness.”

Drug awareness literature was provided to the participants at the registration table.

The Boys 12-13 division came down to a best-of-five shots tie-breaker between Brendan Fitz, 13, and Teagan Cabral, 13, of Sycamore, with Fitz hitting his first four shots to beat his friend by one.

Fitz said that he and his friends did a little trash-talking prior to the competition, “but friendly trash-talking, not beating each other up like in UFC.”

He said he benefited from the experience of winning last year in a tie-breaker.

“I practiced a lot," Fitz said. "Last year, I didn’t do as well in the districts, so I really wanted to come back this year, because this is my last year competing.”

If Fitz or any of the other winners on Saturday advance past districts, the State finals will be in Decatur on Feb. 15. Nationals will be April 12 in Springfield, Mass.

The Elks National “Hoop Shoot” Free Throw Competition has been held every year since 1972-73. There have been seven national champions from the state of Illinois, but no participants representing the Sycamore or DeKalb lodges have ever won. The DeKalb lodge held their competition two weeks ago.

Sycamore Elks Hoop Shoot contest division winners

• Brendan Fitz (Boys 12-13 years)

• Imani Hillmer (Girls 12-13)

• Jaden Zientek (Boys 10-11)

• Emmalee Torsen (Girls 10-11)

• Jeffrey Hillmer (Boys 8-9)

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