SALEM-The free throw line is often referred to as the loneliest place on a basketball court. Kyla Jamison recently found out it's even lonelier when the crowd-instead of yelling and screaming-is sitting in complete silence.
On April 12, the Salem fifth-grader stepped to the line in the finals of the Elks National Hoop Shoot Free Throw Contest in Springfield, Massachusetts. The stands at Western New England University were filled up, but nobody was making a sound. In addition to the pressure of going for a national championship, Jamison found the silence to be deafening.
"It was weird," Jamison said. "It wasn't like a normal basketball game. I was nervous, I just had to really focus on myself."
With all eyes on her, Jamison calmly sank 24-of-25 free throws to become the national champion in the girls 10-11 age group. She also earned the Getty Powell Award for having made the most free throws of any female in the competition regardless of age group.
"I felt mostly relief," Jamison said. "I worked very hard for three years to try and win this contest and I was just relieved that I finally did it."
It was Jamison's third trip to the national finals in the last four years. Previously, she finished seventh in the 8-9 age group, while placing third last year in the 10-11 age group. She said this trip would be her last.
"I could still compete in the tournament for a few more years, but now that I've won I don't think I will do it anymore," she said. "If I hadn't won I would keep coming back until I did."
Over two million boys and girls competed in the tournament, which was sponsored by the Elks National Foundation. Each participant must win local, district, state and regional tournaments to be one of the 12 national finalists. In each round, contestants shoot 10 free throws in the first round and 15 in the second for a total of 25. Whoever has the most free throws after the two rounds advances.
Jamison's run to nationals came under the most fire at the state tournament when she had to compete in a five-shot tiebreaker with her opponent. Jamison all five of her shots, while her opponent made four.
"I'm actually less nervous after the first round of free throws," Jamison said. "After the first round I know who I am up against and what I have to beat and I just go out there and shoot."
For the national finals, Jamison and the other contestants received an all-expenses paid trip to Springfield courtesy of the Elks, which included an exclusive tour of the National Basketball Hall of Fame.
"Walking around the Hall of Fame was really cool," Jamison said. "I liked seeing some of the old jerseys that players wore and going on the basketball court they have there."
For winning the Getty Powell Award, Jamison will get to travel to New Orleans in July to give a speech in front of 3,000 people at the Elks National Convention.
"We're about to start working on the speech, Jamison said, "It will be about working hard to achieve your goals. I'm sure I will be a little nervous."
The key to Jamison's success has been a fierce work ethic unusual for someone so young. She first began shooting at a very young age and currently practices every day before school and sometimes after. Her goal is to make 100 free throws every day.
"I just loved basketball for as long as I can remember," Jamison said. "I love just to go off and practice.
"I have no idea where her drive comes from," said Kevin Jamison, Kyla's father. "It's something very special."
Jamison is currently part of a traveling team that went 45-1 this season. She has already grown to 5-foot-6 as a fifth-grader and hopes to one day land a Division I college scholarship.
"I just have to keep working hard," Jamison said. "I love competing and I love playing basketball."