COVINGTON -- It was a long and hard battle in some age groups in the Elks Hoop Shoot held at the Newton gym on Sunday.
What started out as more than 2,000 participants has been whittled down to six finalists who will compete in the district finals back at Newton on Feb. 4.
First- and second-place finishers for the boys and girls were named in three age brackets (8-9, 10-11, 12-13). But only the winner of each bracket is advancing to the district finals.
Winning the 8-9 year-old bracket were Middle Ridge's Jadden Mitchell (16 out of 25 shots) for the boys and Fairview's Unique Reed (12) for the girls.
Taking second place were Dontae Hardaway of Live Oak with 13 shots followed by East Newton's Lemmon Jakiyra, who made 10 of her shots.
The 8-9 age bracket shooters shot at the 10-foot high hoop but from four feet closer than the standard foul line where the rest of the players made their attempts.
Both of the 10-11 year-old brackets had some drama as they had to go to a five-shot shootout after the 25 shots were taken in regulation.
In the girls bracket, both Jordan Releford, from Live Oak, and India Belcher, from Flint Hill, were 8-of-25. They had to go to a second shoot before Releford was called the winner.
There was no question that Flint Hill's Montez Swann won the boys bracket as he made 22 of his free throws. But a shootout was needed before Middle Ridge's Jacob Dodson (19) was declared runner-up.
"Twenty-two out of 25 is not bad at all," Elk Hoop Shoot spokesman Jeff Dial said. "The three that he missed all went in but had some spin (on the ball) and they spun around and came out."
Winning the 12-13 bracket were Parker Kauffman, who attends the Theme School, with Porterdale's Maiya Jackson winning the girls competition.
"Everything went real well. The audience has to be completely quiet and that can affect some of the kids," Dial said. "They've never been out shooting in front of a big crowd with no noise. I think Newton's gym is larger than the elementary school gyms and that makes a difference."
The district competition will pit the winners against their Hoop Shoot counterparts from areas including Gainesville, Augusta, Lake Oconee, Eatonton, Hartwell, Grayson and Covington.