The bright lights of the “ninth island” of Las Vegas recently shined on a few future Big Island basketball stars.
Every year, young talent representing the Kona Elks Lodge have their chance to step up to the line and compete in the Elks Hoop Shoot free throw contest. In this year’s shortened competition, four keiki representing Kailua-Kona finished in first in the Hawaii/California state competition and advanced to the regional round.
Briley Hao, Landon Kauka, Mikela Salazar-Harrell and Kaylie Yamasaki, all representing the Kona Elks Lodge, won their respective age groups in the state competition and advanced to the Western regional competition in Las Vegas on March 15.
They were joined by Jackson Ramirez from the Walnut Creek, Calif., Elks Lodge and Joshua Vernes from the Kailua Elks Lodge on Oahu.
“We did really good,” the Elks’ James Buehler said. “It’s just a fun thing to try and get the kids interested in doing things and being competitive.”
The Hoop Shoot was created by the Elks and was first held in 1972 as a way to have a basketball competition that younger children could participate in. Six winners are crowned every year in the girls 8-9, 10-11 and 12-13 age groups and the boys 8-9, 10-11 and 12-13 age groups.
The participants also were able to see and tour Vegas, courtesy of the Elks.
“They took them on a tour of Vegas in a limousine, in a stretch Hummer limo,” Buehler said. “They got to go down the strip and see the Bellagio and everything.”
Hao, Salazar-Harrell and Yamasaki would have been on their way in April to represent the Big Island in Chicago for the national championship, but this year, the contest was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yamasaki also won the Adrian Brubaker Most Outstanding Shooter Award at regionals.
Buehler said the cancellation of the national competition is “unfortunate” but even though they are missing out on the 2020 finals, Buehler said there still is a chance for the participants to complete their dreams of winning nationals in 2021.
“Almost all the kids who did really well this year will be competing next year,” Buehler said. “So I’m hoping for another really good year next year.”
2020 Elks Hoop Shoot Hawaii/California state champions
Boys 8 and 9: Jackson Ramirez, Walnut Creek, Calif.
Girls 8 and 9: Briley Hao, Kona
Boys 10 and 11: Joshua Vernes, Kailua
Girls 10 and 11: Kaylie Yamasaki, Kona
Boys 12 and 13: Landon Kauka, Kona
Girls 12 and 13: Mikela Salazar-Harrell, Kona