Shown are the awards that were given to 12 freethrow contest winners.
Shown are the awards that were given to 12 freethrow contest winners.
The gymnasium on the campus of Holy Family Chapel and School, Lakewood, echoed with the sound of bouncing basketballs and enthusiastic applause March 12 as scores of young boys and girls competed in the annual Knights of Columbus Free Throw Tournament Trenton Diocese finals.

Each hopeful, employing a unique blend of skill and determination, strove to earn the coveted sound of a “swish” and propel a 22-ounce orange rubber sphere to sink through a nylon net 15 feet away.

Photo Gallery: Knights of Columbus Free Throw Tournament

The field of competitors, each hailing from Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth or Ocean counties, was winnowed down to 12 of the best sharpshooters; one boy and girl each from the age categories of nine through 14 took home a trophy and earned an invitation to the tournament’s state finals next month. Each child was given 25 chances to sink a goal; in total, the dozen winners scored 194 free throws on their way to victory.

In the 14-year-old boys division, Caden Mamone of St. Anthony of Padua Parish, Hightstown, scored 18 baskets, while Katelyn Kimball of St. Veronica Parish, Howell, made 11 shots to best her other female competitors. Addison Maloney’s 11 out of 25 was sufficient to earn the Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, Bordentown, 13-year-old girl a victory, while 13-year-old Joseph Troiano of St. James Parish, Pennington, sank an impressive 22 shots to take home the boys’ title. Troiano was no stranger to the winner’s circle: he took home a trophy while competing as a nine-year-old in 2018.

Twelve-year-old James Lane of St. Aloysius scored 11 successful shots, while Leah Crochunis of St. John the Baptist Parish, Allentown, made nine baskets. Kayden Badami-Menges of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel, sank 13 of her attempts to top the 11-year-old girls division; Luke Florentine of St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, approached perfection as he made 24 of his 25 attempts to top the 11-year-old boys division.

Alexxa Kovalkovich, a 10-year-old from Bordentown’s Mary, Mother of the Church Parish, scored 13 baskets, while Joey Vavrence of St. John the Baptist made 19. The nine-year-old division saw two suspenseful contests: Cyril Abraham of St. Anthony of Padua Parish saw 23 of his 25 attempts make a goal, while Emma Elmer of St. Catharine-St. Margaret Parish, Spring Lake, tied another competitor with 16 of 25 shots in regulation play, then topped her opponent with four out of five attempts in the tie-breaker round.

Now in its 50th year, the Knights’ Free Throw Tournament is one of their most successful youth activities. The Catholic fraternal organization’s website explained, “Councils sponsor the tournament to provide an athletic outlet and encourage the values of sportsmanship and healthy competition.” Knights of Columbus State Free Throw chairman, Grand Knight John A. Gazis of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, called the tournament a “valuable teaching tool” for the youth.

“They are competing against kids their own age, and they cheer for their friends, siblings, even strangers,” Gazis said. “It gives them the chance to learn sportsmanship.”

With their victory on March 12, the dozen boys and girls qualified for entrance into the state finals on April 2 in St. Ambrose Parish, Old Bridge. Each Trenton Diocese winner will compete against four others in their age/gender category, one representing each of New Jersey’s five Catholic (arch)dioceses.