R.J. Gonzalez took his time as he stood on the free throw line in the gymnasium at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Bay Shore.
After each shot, the 12-year-old Mastic Beach boy had a routine: dribble, look up at the basket and dribble again. Every attempt was slow and steady as Gonzalez tried to defend his title in the 12th annual Knights of Columbus Free Throw Championship.
Gonzalez won in his age group last year but said he is always trying to improve.
“It’s a fun thing to do and I just do my best,” he said, after making 10 out of 15 baskets.
About 20 children between 10 and 14 participated in the tournament Sunday. The winners in each age group took home a trophy and will move on to the district championship round, which will be held at Central Islip High School. Winners at that tournament will compete for the chance to move on to the county and then statewide free throw tournaments.
Jack McCullough, the financial secretary for the Knights of Columbus in Bay Shore who organized the event, said the tournament is a good way to get kids involved in sports at an early age.
“If you get them started in sports at an early age it might prevent problems down the line,” he said. “Once people do start coming here they come back every year until this kid turns 14. They start here and they play basketball their whole lives.”
Each participant took 15 free throw attempts, and the most successful shooters were Kirsten Farley and Dylan Heege in the 10-year-old category; Natalia Gonzalez, Darius Mullen and Nicholas Ouwerkerk in the 11-year-old category; R.J. Gonzalez was the 12-year-old boys’ winner and Caleigh DeCaprio was the 14-year-old girls’ winner.
Danny Pardo, a member of the Knights of Columbus, said the tournament brings children in the community together.
“I think doing this embraces what our goal is for the community,” said Pardo, who helped tally the free-throw attempts. “We’re all about community service.”
Christine Farley, of Bay Shore, brought her niece Suzanne Roberts, 11, of Mastic Beach, to participate in the tournament.
“I love basketball and I love trying new things like this,” Roberts said.