ST. GEORGE — A 9-year-old from St. George is a couple of free throws away from being a national champion in a free throw shooting contest.
Almost all of the work at the free-throw line has been done by Carson Stephens on his way to winning his age division at the 2020 Elks Hoop Shoot Utah Championship in Salt Lake City on Feb. 1. But Stephens might tell you he at least got an assist from grandpa.
It was grandpa who got him to the regionals in Cedar City with little time to spare, and grandpa who drove him to Salt Lake City for the state championship.
Like a good team player, Mike Meservey isn’t about to take the limelight away from his grandson.
“This is all about Carson,” he said.
The Elks Hoop Shoot, which has gone on for 48 years, is an annual nationwide free throw contest for boys and girls ages 8-13. It started as a way to level any height imbalance among kids in basketball by creating a level playing field through a free throw competition.
After winning the state title, Stephens will be competing in the West Elks Hoop Shoot Championship Saturday in Las Vegas. He will be taking on the best from Arizona, California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Win there, and Stephens will be on his way to the national championship on April 18 at Roosevelt University in Chicago.
Win that, and Stephens will literally be in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The names of each Hoops Shoot winner is inscribed on a wall at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He would not be the first kid from St. George with their name inscribed in Springfield. Raylee Ross’ name is there after she won the girls’ eight- to nine-year-old division in 2016.
But Stephens is only halfway on his hall of fame journey. He entered the contest two months ago and won the first competition among his classmates at Little Valley Elementary. He then won the St. George districts, earning a place in the regionals in Cedar City as the Dixie Elks Lodge 1743 representative.
The only problem is his youth team, coached by his dad Chase, had a game scheduled for the same time.
That’s where grandpa came in. In the third period of his game, Carson Stephens was pulled out and it was up to grandpa to get him to Cedar City on time. There was little time to spare.
As they pulled up to the gym, to their horror, it was the wrong gym. Grandfather and grandson seemingly had a 24-second clock ticking in their heads. But grandpa still got him there.
“We made it by two minutes after being sent to the wrong place,” the retired Meservey said.
But like a shot at the buzzer, Stephens came through and won the regionals. For the second-straight year, he was going to state.
Meservey said Carson is just one part of a sports family. Father Chase Stephens was once quarterback at Pine View High, while mother Season Stephens was a state champion in track and field in California.
The weekend of the state tournament in Salt Lake City, dad still had to coach. It was grandpa to the rescue again. They were joined by Meservey’s dad – Carson’s great-grandfather.
“I’ve always been close to my 18 grandchildren, I have been fortunate to be able to take them on many trips around the U.S. and Canada, taking them either one at a time or a group of five,” Meservey said. “Carson has been on at least a dozen such trips. His are usually sports-related.”
In the state final, Stephens would go last in his age group, but he certainly was not least.
In the contest, one gets 25 attempts to make a free throw. Stephens’ first shot went in, then another, then another. He ended up making his first 21 in a row. But grandpa was nowhere to be seen in the stands.
“I couldn’t sit in the stands when it was his turn,” Meservey said. “I had to stand on the side where I could still see him.”
In his last four shots, Stephens made two. With 23 of 25 free throws made, he was crowned champion.
“As the sportsman he is, he shook his very emotional opponents’ hands,” Meservey said.
What followed was a happy drive back to St. George with grandpa at the wheel.
“Carson was on cloud nine, calling and texting his parents and other family,” Meservey said. “We must have fist-bumped 20 times on the way home.”
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