SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Morgan Edwards is a soldier of routine.
The seventh-grader from Mount Savage Middle School has practiced every day he can, practiced the same way each time and worn the same clothes while doing so. For the last three years Edwards has finished his routine by competing in the Elks National Hoop Shoot at the end of each April at basketball’s home court of Springfield, Mass.
Beginning at 9:45 a.m. this morning almost 100 boys and girls will join Edwards over three different age groups to battle for the national free throw title. The stage is nothing new for the Frostburg Elks No. 470 representative. He placed second last year and finished fourth in 2011 competition.
Edwards tied for for first-place at the last competition, but lost a shoot-off with the eventual winner. In 2011, he tied for second, and finished fourth after the shoot-off.
Though it’s part of his routine now, attending the national championship still brings out the little boy in the teenager. As well as the occasional butterflies.
“I still get excited to go, but I’m a little more familiar with the surroundings,” said the Maryland/Delaware/D.C state champion for the last five years.
“I still get a little nervous, but it’s more excitement than it is nerves.”
What has also become routine for Edwards is the fact that he consistently nails free throws with incredible efficiency. Through competition leading up to this year’s nationals the youngster is making 96 percent of his attempts.
With a total of 25 shots being taken in each competition, a 96 percent success rate means that Edwards averages making 24 of the 25 attempts.
He went 23 for 25 in the Southeast Central Region contest to advanced to Springfield.
Knowing that if he misses more than one shot he’s lowered his average doesn’t seem to affect him while on the court.
“I’m not really think about how many I’m making overall, but how I’m doing against the other guy. Of course, I want to have a high average because it means I’m shooting well, but the main goal is winning
a national championship. That’s never changed.”
One thing that that has changed for Edwards is that he no longer has his lucky North Carolina T-shirt he had worn during every competition for the previous four years.
Well, sort of.
“The one I had been wearing finally got too small, but when we visited North Carolina this year we went into a UNC sportswear store and found another one. So I basically have the exact same shirt I’ve been wearing, only it fits now.”
Edwards does have one other good luck charm he likes to travel with, and you’ll have to take his word for it, but he matches his Carolina shirt with a pair of lucky blue underwear.
Not only has he worn them during competition, but he often sports the same shirt during practice.
“Everything has been basically the same for six years,” he said. “I just go out as many days as I can and having practice be as close as possible to the competitions.”
It will be the last year that Edwards is eligible to compete in the competition because of his age. Knowing it’s his last year has Edwards hoping he can take in the atmosphere a little more this time.
“I am going to try and make an effort to enjoy myself as much as possible, knowing that it’s my last year, but I like to look at it that I have more experience than the average competitor.
“So while I want to have fun, I’m still going in with the mindset of trying to win it all.”
Edwards would become the third national champion to come out of Allegany County. Cumberland’s Adam Morgan won in 1997-98 at the 12-13 division, while Frostburg’s Kacey Kahl won in ‘98-99 in the 10-11 division.
The Elks Hoop Shoot is open to any boy or girl between the ages of 8 and 13. Participants are separated into three divisions: 8 and 9-year olds, 10-11 and 12-13.
Live results of today’s competition can be found at www.elks.org/hoopshoot.
Chris Appel is a sportswriter for the Times-News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org