A Bellwood teen-ager claimed a national championship in free throw shooting on Saturday.
Nathan Davis, who just turned 14, won the age 12-13 boys division in the Elks National Hoop Shoot Finals at New England College in Springfield, Mass. Davis is an eighth-grade student at Bellwood-Antis Middle School and was in Springfield with his parents, Todd and Shelly Davis.
"I'm really excited to bring this [title] home to Bellwood,'' Nathan Davis said.
Nathan Davis is an eighth grader at Bellwood-Antis.
Davis won the championship by edging Morgan Edwards of Frostburg, Md., in a playoff tiebreaker. Davis made all five of his free throws after Edwards had made four of his five.
"He went first and missed his first one and then made the rest of them,'' Davis said. "I stepped up and made my first four, and then I took a few breaths before making the last one.''
Davis and Edwards had each made 24-of-25 free throws earlier to force the tiebreaker. Boys representing 10 other regions were in their division and came from states such as Idaho, Kentucky, Arizona and Nebraska.
"I was a little nervous,'' Davis said. "My dad and I shot a lot of free throws the night before, so I felt confident. I missed my second shot, and I knew I had to make [the next 23] to stay in contention, and that's what drove me to make them.''
Davis earned a trophy, a few T-shirts and had his named placed on a plaque that will be on exhibit at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
"I've been doing this since I was 8 and never made it past [the state level],'' Davis said.
Davis became only the second Blair County representative ever in the Elks Hoop Shoot Finals. Altoona's Matt Lingenfelter qualified for the national event in the age 10-11 division back in 1997.
Davis said he customarily shoots 100 free throws after each school day at the Northern Blair Recreation Center.
"I've been practicing shooting sets of 25, and I usually make 24 or 25 each set,'' Davis said.
Davis is the younger brother of Bellwood-Antis junior basketball standout Noah Davis. Their parents were both outstanding basketball players during their school days while growing up in the basketball-rich state of Indiana. In fact, Shelly Davis is a member of the Indiana High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
"They've been supportive in everything I do,'' Nathan said of his parents and older brother. "They were the ones who got me started in basketball in the first place.''
Davis qualified for nationals by taking first place in his age division at the local, district, state and regional competitions. The local competition, sponsored by the Tyrone Elks Lodge, was held Jan. 7 at the Tyrone Middle School.
"Both he and his brother are fundamentally sound basketball players, and they're both outstanding outside shooters,'' said Tyrone's Steve Lucas, who has served as director of the local competition for nearly 30 years. "You can tell Nathan is well-schooled. He shoots well.''
Davis' closest scare came at the district contest in Bellefonte on Jan. 28, when he and another shooter both made 23 of 25 free throws and four of five in a first shoot-off. It took Davis a second shoot-off, in which he made all five free throws, to secure the championship.
"I was afraid I wasn't going to get out of that one alive,'' Davis said.
Davis prevailed among nine shooters at the local competition, and among 10 shooters at both the district and state competitions. He qualified for nationals by being the best shooter among three at the regional competition, which was held March 24 in Wilkes-Barre.
"I'm really trying to move up to the varsity level [at Bellwood-Antis] to play with my brother this year,'' Davis said. "Winning this will help me to keep striving toward that.''