By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Ayden Richmond had competed at the district competition for the Elks Hoop Shoot in Ravenna before and the result wasn’t exactly what he wanted.
When the son of Jodi (Springer) and Jeff Richmond returned for a second go at it on Jan. 12, he knew exactly what he was going to do to give himself the best possible chance to win.
“We practice a lot,” Jeff Richmond said. “We come up to Spire or go to whatever gym we can sneak into and he shoots 200 shots every night. We practice the physical, but we talk about the mental part, too.
“Last year at Ravenna, he was very intimidated. I told him it doesn’t matter what everyone else does, just what he does. He decided he didn’t want to watch the other kids shoot.”
“I just don’t like to watch the other kids shoot,” Ayden Richmond said. “It makes me nervous.”
The younger Richmond, a 9-year-old third grader at Cork Elementary, made the most of his return trip and won the 8-9-year-old division, making 23 of 25 shots to force a tie and send the competition into a shootoff. Richmond made all five of his attempts, while the other competitor made just four, to give him the district championship.
“I was very excited,” Ayden Richmond said. “It was a little (scary), but I’m used to shooting 200 shots per day.”
“He had no clue he won until the shootoff,” Jeff Richmond said. “The director came over after and asked if I realized Ayden didn’t watch the other kids shoot. He said that’s what they do at regionals and nationals. He said that when the other kids are shooting, they might be reading books.”
Richmond will head to the state competition on Feb. 9. Should he continue to shoot well, there could be stops in Angola, Ind. for the regional and, possibly, Springfield, Mass. for the nationals.
Keeping a mental edge at the Hoop Shoot is important, given that a pin drop can be heard in the gymnasiums and all eyes are focused on the shooters.
“There are six hoops going at the same time with one kid shooting at each hoop,” Richmond said. “There’s a scorekeeper and a rebounder at each hoop and there’s total silence. They shoot 10 shots then, after everybody has taken their shots, they shoot 15 more.
“Ayden made 20 of 25 to win the Ashtabula competition, then actually got better and made 23 of 25 at the district and tied.
“He knew the kid he was shooting against was tough. That kid had to have a shootoff last year and he went 25 (extra) shots until he missed. He made 46 of 50 shots and lost. We knew he’d be good.”
“I think (I won) because I didn’t get upset when I missed a shot,” Ayden Richmond said. “I had a short memory.”
As nerve-wracking as it is for the competitors, it might be worse for the parents.
“It’s 100 times worse than if I were competing myself,” Jeff Richmond said. “The whole, we’re sitting there sweating and praying. I can’t even describe what it’s like. I’d rather be out there doing it myself.
“But Ayden stays focused and he makes us proud.”
Ayden Richmond got into the competition through his normal school routine.
“Nancy Patterson does the Cork Elementary portion of the competition as part of her gym classes,” Jeff Richmond said. “She starts the boys and girls when they’re 8 or 9 and does it right there during the school day as part of their gym classes.
“She deserves a lot of the credit. She’s done that for years. There’s also the local Elks and J.P. (Ducro) does a good job getting the word out.”
Good free-throw shooting runs in Ayden Richmond’s blood. His mom was 43 of 52 (82.7 percent) from the line as a senior starter on legendary coach Rod Holmes’ 1994-95 Jefferson team that was Northeastern Conference co-champion and the Division II district runner-up. Jeff Richmond played for the boys team at Jefferson for Tim Mizer.
“I’m sure she’ll claim (that he takes after her),” Jeff Richmond joked. “He gets his athletic talent from both of us parents.”
There’s been a valuable lesson for Ayden Richmond in his preparation for the competitions.
“We’ve told him it’s just like life,” Jeff Richmond said. “If there’s anything you want in life, you have work hard to get it — to be successful, you have to work hard. Nothing’s given to you.”
All Ayden really knows, though, is that shooting 200 shots with his parents is a good time.
“I enjoy (practicing),” Ayden Richmond said. “We’re just up here shooting around, just having fun.”
Ettinger is a freelance from Ashtabula.