The 2020 champions in men’s and women’s college basketball were supposed to be crowned in Atlanta and New Orleans. The NCAA tournaments were canceled, but there was still March madness in Kensington, Maryland.
In an effort to reconnect students, and get them some physical activity, the Holy Redeemer School in Kensington organized a virtual free throw shooting contest. The competition started with more than 100 boys and girls, kindergarten through eighth grade, divided into brackets and lasted two weeks.
The goal was simple and the competition intense. In each matchup, the kids had 24 hours to video themselves from a private basketball court shooting 10 consecutive free throws. The best score out of ten free throws advanced.
“It kept us all engaged during the first two weeks of the quarantine,” said Holy Redeemer Athletic Director Jorge Garayta. “You had to shoot the free throws, somebody had to video you and you could only do one take. We are a catholic school and doing this during Lent, so I said, ‘God is watching you so only one take is allowed.’”
Initially, the competitors were separated by grade and gender, but by the final of what was called the “Midwest regional,” fourth grader Mary Kate Breslin went against eighth grader Ryan Gardner with a spot in the Holy Redeemer final four on the line. It took overtime (or more video) for Breslin to defeat Gardner.
“It was so much fun,” Garayta said. “What was great about this was when the camera turned on and you have to video yourself shooting all these free throws, she was able to fight through the nerves and beat all these guys.”
And yes, there was even a show for the Holy Redeemer’s final four. Garayta did it from his 12-year-old son Sean’s bedroom.
In the end, fourth grader Cole Frye defeated Breslin to win the championship of the Holy Redeemer free throw shooting contest. Frye’s name is now on the sign outside the Holy Redeemer School and received a trophy as well.
“Alan Vouk, who came up with the idea for this tournament, had a great idea,” Garayta said. “He said the trophy should stay in our trophy case forever to remember this time when we had no sport but we had the Holy Redeemer.”
Holy Redeemer even wrapped up its contest in a familiar way: The NCAA men’s tournament coverage on television ends with the playing of the song “One Shining Moment” to a montage of highlights.
Holy Redeemer used the song in a video that opened and closed with words from Maryland men’s basketball coach Mark Turgeon.
The Holy Redeemer virtual free throw shooting contest was a complete school effort. All the special videos had a professional look and were done by 12-year old sixth grader Patrick Vouk.
The kids might have been physically separated, but through simple free throw shooting and technology, bonds were actually strengthened.
“I had two kids who were part of this thing and they were texting friends, talking trash and congratulating each other,” Garayta said. “It was just good interaction when we didn’t know what we were supposed to do all cooped up in our houses. It absolutely brought the community together.”