WESTMORELAND, N.Y. - Two local youth basketball players finished at or near the top of a national free throw shooting competition, and now have the hardware to prove it.
Tommy Goodelle, of New Hartford, and Brett Saunders, of Herkimer, competed in the 2020 Elks Hoop Shoot, which began last year and ended this May after a delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is held by the Elks National Foundation.
Goodelle, 11, represented Utica Elks Lodge #33 and won the national title in the boys age 10-11 division after shooting a perfect 50 of 50 in the final round of the competition.
This after he finished third two years ago.
"My goal this year was to get second or first," said Goodelle. "It was pretty challenging, but I just took it one round at a time and I just wanted to keep winning every round."
Saunders, has turned 10 since the competition went on pause, but he finished third nationally in the boys age 8-9 division.
He was competing out of the Herkimer Elks Lodge #1436.
"It's pretty cool," said Saunders. "I was just happy that I won states, but then I won regionals and came in third for nationals so [it's great]."
There are three-million participants in the Elks Hoop Shoot nationwide, over 500,000 competitors in each division.
The competition is a gauntlet to get to the top. Both players had to win multiple rounds in order to qualify for nationals, including: local lodge, district, states, and regionals.
Goodelle is the first local boy to win the national title in the Hoop Shoot. Trisha Pelnik, of New York Mills, won the girls age 12-13 division back in 1983.
Current Syracuse Orange guard Joseph Girard III won nationals in two different divisions, in 2012 and 2014, putting these young athletes in good company.
The national finals are typically held in Chicago, but due to the pandemic, were held virtually.
Because of this, Goodelle and Saunders captured their hardware right here at home, taking their trophy-clinching shots at Borza's Recreation Center in Westmoreland.
Though disappointed in missing a trip to the Windy City, Goodelle said that being able to take his title-winning shots at a place he's spent lots of time practicing gave him a sense of comfort that helped in the high-pressure situation.
The boys had to wait a bit to get their trophies after the results were in, but on Wednesday, they were able to show them off in the very gym where they sank the shots to earn them.
Saunders is looking to build upon this year's success for next year's competition, knowing that he just has to beat two more shooters to get to the top.
Goodelle may have won the whole thing, but he's still not satisfied and is already focusing on repeating next year.
Through this competition, both players learned a valuable life lesson that hard work can pay off, and that all those hours in the gym can lead to accomplishing the goals they set out to conquer.
For more on their story, click on the attached videos