Barboursville's Jennings to compete in national free-throw competition
There are dozens of highly paid athletes in the United States who couldn't hit a free throw if their life depended on it.
And then there are the boys and girls of the Elks Hoops Shoot, a select few from three age groups who will compete on a national stage later this month, hitting as many free throws as they can under the intense scrutiny of officials, parents and spectators in Springfield, Mass.
One of those finalists is little carrot-topped Audrey Jennings, a 9-year-old from Barboursville who has shot 85 percent at the line through four different competitions, going literally a combined 85-of-100 shooting. Participants shoot 25 shots at each competition.
Jennings, the daughter of Tara and Tucker Jennings, recently emerged as the female winner for the 8-9 age group in the regional championship in Maryland, where participants from six states gathered for a chance at nationals. She represents Huntington Elks Lodge No. 313.
"It all started with her competing at her school (Barboursville Elementary)," said mother Tara Jennings. "Then there was a sort of district competition at (Huntington) St. Joe, then at the state level in Charleston and then the Southwest Central Region championship.
"I really didn't know anything about it, until she won at her school and said 'Mom, we've got to go to this thing' and she just kept winning and winning."
She said her daughter has enjoyed each level of competition.
"Generally speaking she's a really quiet kid who doesn't express herself a whole lot, but she's always loved sports," Tara Jennings said. "She's always played basketball and softball and it doesn't matter what sport it is on TV, she'll watch it.
"She loves to watch sports and play sports, so this has been a lot of fun for her."
The competition itself is rather intense for those involved.
"The whole gym has to be completely silent and all of these people are watching these kids shoot," Tara Jennings said. "We haven't really made a big deal out of it but it's great that she's doing this and having fun."
For her parents, it's been an enlightening experience, learning all about the sub-culture of youth competition that exists through the Elks.
"There are a lot of kids who started at Audrey's age and have been back year after year in different age groups," Tara Jennings said. "I've learned a lot about the Elks, and they've been great. They cover everything for our trip to Massachusetts."
Audrey Jennings will get to tour the Basketball Hall of Fame during the championship weekend, and will compete on April 27.
The Elks Hoop Shoot is a program of the Elks National Foundation. According to the group's website, the foundation was in 1928 as the charitable arm of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. The site states the foundations helps Elks build stronger communities through programs that support youth, honor veterans, and meet needs in areas where Elks live and work.