By RICH KELLY
For the Star Beacon
There’s no question the Westside Shootout has been a fixture of Ashtabula for years. Played on the courts at West Junior High, which no longer stands leaving a strange void for fans sitting courtside for the event, the shootout seems to get the competitive juices flowing in competitors each year it comes around.
Returning to the outdoor court just off West Avenue on Friday night, the shootout began with a spirited 15 man 3-point shooting contest followed by a enthusiastic slam dunk contest with just 4 competitors.
While most attending knew each other, there were some new faces. One belonged to 12-year-old T.J. Skinner of Jefferson, a sixth-graded who competed at Jefferson Elementary School this season, and a major hoops fan.
After seeing a strong first round in the 3-point contest from Ashtabula grad Anthony Hargrove that was obliterated in the second by a more consistent effort from 48-year-old Erich (Whitehead) Hunt, Skinner noted both the efforts involved from all the athletes and the conditions in which they battled.
“He (Hargrove) had a great first round in the 3-point contest, but he fell apart in the second round,” Skinner said. “A couple other guys got hot in streaks, but not like the guy that won it.”
While occasional winds picked up and the sun began to set, shootout director Mike Johnson also noted some strategical things that played a part in the 3-point bombardment.
“Some of these guys aren’t using their heads too well in this today,” Johnson said.
With breezes blowing from the southwest, and a setting sun glaring right into the shooter’s eyes as they took their final shots, from the left corner of the court, the sun caused problems looking at the bucket, and the breezes also caused shots to blow wide of their mark.
“All of the guys have taken their first shots with the sun at their backs,” Johnson said. “With the heat, too, by the time they reach their last five tries, they don’t have anything left.”
Hargrove had a hot hand in the first round, hitting 11 shots to 10 each for two other players. After Marcus Parker hit for an individual best effort of 13 from beyond the arc overall to put 20 points on the chart, Hargrove seemed out of the picture. He nailed only six tries the second time around, and Parker was solidly in the drivers seat.
Amid a boatload of bantering and joking all over the area, though, Hunt stepped up looking to follow his 10 points in the first round.
“I felt coming in that I could win this thing” the 48 year old said matter-of-factly with a huge grin on his face. “I didn’t have any special process of looking at it, I think I’m the best street ball jump shooter in the area, and all I had to do was go out and do it.”
He did. Starting the second round from the right corner, his movement to the right wing on his second set of five shots found the range for him. He netted a dozen shots for a total of 22, and as the last few contestants did their best to catch up, it became obvious that it would take some deadly shooting to beat Hunt.
It never happened.
The slam dunk contest saw some novel efforts among the four players, but the effort to score depended on successful dunks for points. A miss resulted in a zero.
Hargrove used his long, lean frame to put home the most dunks, overcoming a solid effort from former Lakeside player La’Roo Wells to claim the title in a 69-60 margin of victory.
Competition is never missing either. With friends not in the effort cheering pals along the way, even after it was over, questions were raised as to the scoring of the contest. To score, the basic requirement was a successful dunk, and other misses cost Wells, Kevin McCaleb and Ray Journigan points that Hargrove didn’t miss out on.
“I was really worried about ‘Roo today,” Hargrove said. “I knew if the other guys missed, all I had to do was make my dunks to score points, and that’s what I tried to do.”
“It just goes to show in a shootout, it’s about making shots,” Johnson said. “I’ll bet that little guy (Hunt) doesn’t even pick up a ball until just before the shootout, and look at what he did.”
With the misses coming into play in the dunk contest, Skinner also agreed with director Johnson about scoring points.
“I agree with how the dunk contest was scored,” the upcoming Falcon seventh grader said. “Some guys got mad because their pals lost points from misses, but it’s the fair thing to do. It’s fun, though, because the person they cheer for does well but not good enough to win.”
With its move back to West Avenue after last year at G.O. Ministries on Station Avenue, things are set up for a great day of games, which begins with 11 teams at 9:30 a.m. today.