When Rhys Fitzgerald woke up on the morning of the Roxboro Elks Lodge Hoop Shoot in January, he was less than thrilled for the competition. It took some convincing from his father, Hunt, but Rhys reluctantly took part.
Weeks later, after Rhys knocked down 22-of-25 free throws and was crowned the Hoop Shoot state champion in the 10-11 age group, he was glad his dad, successfully convinced him to participate after all.
“When I won it, I couldn’t really believe it because I just started working on my basketball game,” Rhys told The Courier-Times. “I’ve been working a lot on my shooting outside and the work paid off. It means a lot to me.”
With the state championship win Feb. 11 at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, Rhys advances to the regional competition this Saturday in Charlottesville, Va.
The regional competition includes the state winners from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia, as well as the District of Columbia.
“My mindset heading into that is don’t worry about who you’re going against, just worry about beating yourself, so I’m going to try to get more than 22,” Rhys said. “Hopefully, that wins.”
Before advancing to the state competition, Rhys had to win the Roxboro local competition and another regional competition hosted in Roxboro.
Rhys also had to get past Roxboro native Mason Hurdle, the defending state champion who advanced all the way to the national competition in Chicago last year. Mason and Rhys also play on the same rec-league basketball team.
“I wasn’t really trusting myself, but when I won that first one I gained a lot of confidence,” Rhys said.
Aside from the winning, Rhys also got value out of simply being part of the event. He said he was happy he got to meet and hang out with the other competitors and made some new friends.
“The Elks Lodge has been very hospitable throughout the whole thing,” Hunt said.
The Fitzgeralds are grateful for the expenses the Elks Lodge is taking care of for the experience, including a hotel room in Charlottesville, money for gas mileage and for meals.
Each Hoop Shooter takes 10 free throws in the first round and then 15 in the second to total 25 shots. Rhys went last in his age group at states and said he liked that since it let him know what the score to beat was heading into his final round.
Rhys knocked down 12 straight in the final round to separate himself from the second place finisher, who hit 19-of-25 shots.
“We’re proud of him no matter what happens Saturday,” Hunt said. “We’re just excited to be there and proud of him for making it this far and having the perseverance to deal with his nerves.”
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