ST. MARYS - Peaking at the right time is an art Grant Barnhart mastered at the age of 9.
The third grader at Belmont Elementary School recently returned from his trip to Springfield, Mass., where he made 25-of-25 free throws at the 41st annual Elks National Hoop Shoot competition and claimed a national title for his age division.
Mark Barnhart, who coaches the varsity boys basketball program at St. Marys High School, could only remember one instance where his son made 25 free throws in a row.
"I was amazed he was able to do it," Mark Barnhart said. "He hit 25 of 25 one time in practice, but I had never seen him do it in competition."
The journey began in early December when Grant won the first of a series of competitions. In gym class, he was the most accurate against his classmates after sinking 7 of 10 free throws. The next step occurred at Pleasants County Middle School where Grant continued to top the charts after making 20 of 25 free throws.
At the northern district in mid-January, Grant pushed the bar even higher by converting 22 of 25 free throws.
Next stop was Capital High School in Charleston in early February. This time, Grant was good on 21 of 25 attempts.
Now Grant was destined for outside state boundaries as his family drove from the high school boys state tournament in Charleston to a locale in Frederick, Md, on March 16. That's more than five hours in a vehicle.
The road trip, though, didn't faze Grant as he competed against qualifiers from North Carolina, Virginia and a regional encompassing Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Grant and the representative from North Carolina were the two participants who tied for first place after they made 20 of 25 free throws.
In the shootoff, which consisted of five free throw attempts, Grant made all five - one more than the boy from North Carolina made.
Grant was now in the big time as one of 72 national qualifiers who were headed for Western New England University. Seven members from the Barnhart family, including three grandparents, took a flight from Pittsburgh to Hartford, Conn., last weekend then were shuttled to Springfield, Mass.
Part of the itinerary included a tour of the Basketball Hall of Fame with peach buckets and all.
"That was one of my favorite parts of the Hall of Fame - getting to shoot at a peach basket at center court," Grant said.
The next morning, following a breakfast of champions for the national qualifiers, it was game on. The 8-9 age division for both boys and girls opened the contest - boys at one end of the floor and girls at the other.
In the pecking order, Grant was eighth out of 12. In 10 attempts, Grant was perfect on all 10.
After everyone completed their turn, the next shift began - this time with 15 attempts. Of the first seven individuals who shot before Grant, the best effort turned in was 24 of 25.
Grant walked to the line 12 feet away, and before each shot took his customary three dribbles. Most were clean with the exception of a couple of late attempts.
"His 22nd and 24th attempts hit the front, the back and went in - he got a lot of rim," his father said.
No shootoff was required and Grant had his title.
"The trophy is probably 3 feet high," Grant said.
One other male youth - in the 12-13 age group - was a perfect 25 of 25 and won a tiebreaker against Grant for the Getty Powell Award.
"The Elks does an awesome job with their accommodations," Mark Barnhart said. "It is very well organized and good exposure for the kids.
"I don't know what it's like when you have to go in a gym and you can hear a pin drop, and you have to shoot free throws the way those kids had to. It looks like it would be difficult."
Now that the Elks Hoop Shoot circuit is complete, Grant will return to shooting at his neighbor's driveway and attending summer basketball camps.
He feels just as comfortable standing on a free throw line from the regulation distance of 15 feet as he did from 12 feet.
"Usually I shoot from 15 feet because that's what will get me ready for playing in games," Grant said.