Tales from the Hoop Shoot

  • Grayson Thomas (left) and Caleb Thomas celebrate their Elks Hoop Shoot District titles. Contributed Photo

  • Grayson Thomas (left) and Caleb Thomas celebrate their Elks Hoop Shoot District titles. Contributed Photo

Monday, January 15, 2018

Angelo Thomas has not had much basketball luck when it comes to Maynard High School in recent years.

On Feb. 3, he hopes his son and nephew will fare better.

Thomas’ son Grayson Thomas and cousin Caleb Thomas, both of Greenfield, will join Tyler Podolski, also of Greenfield, at Maynard High School for the Elks Hoop Shoot State Championship on the day before the Super Bowl. There, they’ll have a chance to make the regional championships, which includes an all-expenses-paid trip to Maine. The three boys won their age divisions at the regional finals just over a week ago at the Greenfield YMCA. Grayson and Tyler both represented the Greenfield Elks Lodge, while Caleb was representing the Montague Elks Lodge.

The Hoop Shoot puts players at the free-throw line for 25 shots divided into two rounds. In the first round, each player takes 10 shots, followed by 15 in the second round.

Grayson Thomas won the boys’ ages 8 and 9 division over the weekend, making 16 of 25 free throws. The 7-year-old, who began playing basketball at the age of 3 (Angelo has video of the first shot he made), made only four of 10 in the first round, but went 12-for-15 in the second.

“I was nervous. I was first up,” the 7-year-old said.

Grayson’s cousin, Caleb Thomas, won the boys’ 10 and 11 division by also making 16 of 25. This will not be the first time Thomas will shoot free throws at the state finals. Two years ago, he competed in the Knights of Columbus Hoop Shoot and made it to the state finals, placing third. Thomas said he plays basketball as much as possible. He has a hoop outside at home and another in his room. He said he loves the sport.

“It’s a very active sport and it’s fun to run around,” he said. “When I touch the basketball, it just feels like heaven.”

Caleb said he was not too pleased with his result and has been practicing during basketball practice in anticipation of the upcoming state finals.

“He lives for basketball,” Caleb’s mother Kelly Sadler said. “He would do anything to be on a basketball court.”

This marks the first trip to the finals for Podolski, who has won his age bracket at the local level the past two years, but had lost in the district championships both times. Podolski hit 21 of 25 shots in the local qualifier to win the boys’ 12 and 13 division, but was disappointed to hit 13 of 25 at the districts. It was enough to advance, and now he gets a chance at the state level, where if he can match his local qualifier totals of 21 made free throws, he will have a good chance of emerging victorious.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Podolski said. “I wanted to make it to the final stage and win it, and this year I had a chance again and wanted to take the opportunity.”

Podolski has been playing basketball for Greenfield Middle School and for his Greenfield Suburban League team and has been practicing in anticipation of the state finals during his time with both teams.

The three boys will now take aim at the state level, which takes place at a high school Angelo Thomas knows well. Each of the past two seasons the Greenfield native and Hopkins Academy boys’ basketball coach has led his Golden Hawks to a WMass Division IV championship, only to face Maynard in the state semifinals. In 2016-17, Hopkins dropped a 52-51 decision in the state semifinals, while last season Hopkins fell to Maynard again in the state semifinals, 67-56. Maynard went on to win the state tournament last season.

“I’m on an 0-2 skid right now,” Thomas joked. “Hopefully, Grayson can go to Maynard and the Thomas family can come out of there with a victory.”

Thomas said that he and his son are now practicing free throws every day in preparation for the state finals. Last week, Grayson went to Hopkins practice and worked on free throws during practice. He and his father stuck around after practice and took 75 free throws, including him doing a 25-shot session to mirror how the Hoop Shoot goes, and Grayson sank 21 of 25 shots.

In addition to advancing to the regional tournament, anyone who wins a state title will get tickets to see the Celtics play a home game on March 31 against the Toronto Raptors.

“If I win the state title I might get some Celtics tickets and get a high-five from the Celtics, and that would be so cool,” Caleb Thomas said.

At the very least, the area will be well-represented by the three boys on Feb. 3.