Skyline student Peyton Harts was just one free throw away from going to nationals in the Elks Hoop Shoot competition.

All basketball players know that free throws can mean the difference between a win and a loss. For one Skyline girl, one free throw meant not getting to go to the Elks Hoop Shoot National competition.

Peyton Harts was at the Elks Hoop Shoot Regionals in Denver and hit 21 of 25 free throws. She missed going to nationals by just one free throw. But misses for Harts were few and far between on her road to Regionals. Harts, who is a fourth grader at Skyline, competed against students from Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado at Regionals.

Harts, who competes in the 8-9 age division, has been making free throws with regularity that would make any coach proud. At the state competition in February, Harts hit 23 of 25 free throws and won the competition. At state, shooters are divided into teams of six with three girls and three boys on each team. Gabby Gatlin of Pratt competed in the 12-13 age group at state but did not advance to regionals. Prior to state, Harts also won the local and district Hoop Shoot, both held at Skyline.

Getting that accurate takes practice and Harts gets her fair share of practice time. She practices every day with an hour at school or at home.

"You have to work hard" Harts said.

There are two other age divisions for hoop shoot, ages 10-11 and 12-13. In her age 8-9 division, the competitors get to move four feet closer to the basket from the standard free throw line. In the state competition, Harts made more free throws than any girl in all three age groups and was top shooter.

In competition, they get five warm up shots before beginning their official round. If there is a tie, each player gets an additional five shots.

At regionals, Harts was shooting against from 200 to 250 other contestants. The competition tested her concentration. Participants shoot one at a time and the bleachers are packed with parents and officials. Everyone in attendance watches the shooter and that adds to the pressure. The crowd says nothing during in the shooting, so it's very nerve wracking.

"It's too quiet. There's nothing else going on," Harts said.

Each shooter has a spotter to retrieve the basketball but with everyone being quiet, it takes a lot of concentration to succeed. The judges sit in three chairs behind the shooter and that adds to the stress of the event.

Harts won several trophies and medals this year for her success in the competition. She plans on doing the competition again next year.

Besides winning trophies and medals, competing in the Hoop Shoot is a chance to get to travel and meet new people. Harts was excited to take part and is looking forward to competing again.

"I think it's a great chance to make new friends," Harts said. "It's fun to do and a fun opportunity."

@GaleR_Tribune