General News

Commitment on the Court

Posted on December 07, 2023 in: General News

Commitment on the Court

The Knights of Columbus Free Throw Championship program marks a half-century

By Elisha Valladares-Cormier



In the winter of 1973, children in Florida and North Dakota stepped onto basketball courts to take the first shots of a pilot Knights of Columbus program intended to bring kids together for some wholesome athletic competition. Fifty years later, the Knights of Columbus Free Throw Championship remains the Order’s hallmark youth sporting event, with more than 13,000 children participating in event hosted by more than 1,250 councils last year.

“The Free Throw Championship is a wonderful tool to bring families together, which is something missing nowadays,” said Percy Park, program chairman for the California State Council and a past grand knight of Bishop A. Gallegos Council 6197 in Folsom.

K of C councils have long used basketball to engage young people. An article in the September 1939 issue of Columbia, for example, described the Knights as “a pioneer in the field of Catholic youth guidance” and specified basketball as one means to develop character and leadership in Columbian Squires.

The Free Throw Championship was instituted in 1973 at the recommendation of the Order’s Committee on Youth Activity. The Knights of Columbus Board of Directors chose Florida and North Dakota as pilot jurisdictions for the program, which was open to boys and girls ages 11-14.

Now open to children ages 10-14, the program has since spread to nearly every K of C jurisdiction around the world. While competitions at the council level often are held in a school or parish gym, state championships have been known to take place on NBA courts as basketball stars watch from the sidelines. At the Tennessee state championship in 2005, held after a Memphis Grizzlies game at Pyramid Arena, Grizzlies players Shane Battier and Jason Williams stuck around to take in the action.

At least one NBA player didn’t stay on the sidelines, however. While playing for the Chicago Bulls in February 2020, Luke Kornet agreed to help St. John XXIII-St. John Paul II Council 15771 with its Free Throw Championship in Chicago. It was a full-circle moment for Kornet, who competed in a free throw competition, possibly organized by local Knights, as a kid in Arizona. The basketball center joined Council 15771 himself a few months later.

“I’m grateful for the Knights providing this program because it gives children a goal to work toward,” Kornet said. “It’s easy to think of sports and faith being separate, but this event helps reconcile that competition is a place for us to test and exhibit the virtues, gifts and skills that God has given us to cultivate.”


ELISHA VALLADARES-CORMIER is associate editor of Columbia and a member of Sandusky (Ohio) Council 546.