'Tis the season for holiday parties and the Santa Maria Elks had a special celebration Monday night.
The Elks honored the young men and women who finished in the top three of their annual Elks Hoops Competition with an awards dinner and presentation in the lodge’s banquet room.
“This is the night I like the most,” said Elks Hoop Shoot chairman Eddie Navarro. “I get to call out their names, they get lots of applause, people are taking pictures — the kids are the center of attention.”
This year there were 24 boys and girls who took part in the competition Sunday at the Edwards Community Center gymnasium in three different age-groups for the chance to win a trophy and a special Elks/DARE basketball.
The top three finishers were each awarded those prizes.
The five first-place finishers also advance to the district finals at the Page Youth Center in Goleta on Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, with the chance to advance to the state, regional and national finals.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Kailah Oani, a sixth grader at Valley Christian Academy’s elementary school who took first place in the girls’ 12-13 division. “It was a little nervous when I started but after I got going the nerves went away and I just played basketball.”
Oani made 17 of her 25 shots from the free throw line to finish ahead of Yoridia Ramos and Jaylee Cantu in their division.
Oani improved on her third place finish from the 2016 Hoop Shoot.
“I put in a lot of practice at the school gym and in my house,” said Oani.
“Kailah can actually practice inside our house,” said her mother Jackie, who is also the VCA elementary school girls junior varsity basketball coach. “We have really high ceilings in our living room so we set up a basket and Kailah is able to practice all she wants inside.”
Butch and Teresa Garcia have made the Hoop Shoot an annual holiday tradition for their four children.
Their son Jakob finished second in the boys’ 12-13 division and their daughter Lila finished second in the girls 10-11 division.
“Only the first-place finishers get to go Goleta but if they can’t go, then they’ll call us to fill in,” said Jakob Garcia. “Two years ago, when I was 11, I won here and in Goleta and got to go to Los Angeles. My two older sisters, Natalie and Dominique, also went to Los Angeles a couple times. There was one year when all three of us went to Los Angeles. They both also got second place in the state finals one year.”
Natalie and Dominique Garcia are now too old to participate in the Hoop Shoot. They are continuing their basketball careers as guards on the Righetti High varsity where Natalie is a sophomore and Dominique a senior.
“It was fun competing again,” said Jakob Garcia. “I didn’t win but I got another trophy to add to our family’s trophy shelf.”
Joseph Luna won the boys’ 12-13 division championship.
Elias Giddings won the boys’ 10-11 championship and Briyanna Luna won the girls’ 10-11 title.
Grayson Cole took home the boys’ 8-9 title. There were no girls entered in the 8-9 division this year.
“We also had some of the kids who participate in the ASES program,” said Navarro.
ASES is the After School Education and Safety program for elementary school students.
“There are 13 local schools involved in ASES and they had their own Hoop Shoot contest,” said Navarro. “They had 475 ASES students and some of their winners took part in our Hoop Shoot.”
“These young men and women performed admirably,” said Elks Exalted Ruler Tony Dart. “They all worked hard and we’re very proud of all of them.”