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Nine-year-old Wauker Schaefer to compete in national free-throw competition

Durango boy will compete in Elks Hoop Shoot National Finals in Chicago
Wauker Schaefer shoots a free-throw in a recent competition. (Courtesy Dan Schaefer)

Wauker Schaefer’s morning routine has paid off. Every morning at Florida Mesa Elementary School, Schaefer’s gym teacher opens the gym to him so Schaefer can practice his free throws.

After countless days of practice and changing his free-throw routine a few times, Schaefer will be heading to the Elks Hoop Shoot National Finals on April 20 in Chicago. He will compete against 11 other regional winners from around the country for the national title.

Schaefer thanked his biggest fan in his brother, his parents, his gym teacher and Dewey Waldron, the local Hoops Shoot director for helping him get this far.

“I’m kind of nervous but also excited to meet the other kids,” Schaefer said.

It has been a multi-month process for Schaefer which began on Jan. 6 at Fort Lewis College. Schaefer won the 8-9-year-old boys local Hoop Shoot competition by making 14 of 25 free throws. Contestants shoot 10 free throws in round one and 15 free throws in round two to end up with 25 free throws.

After winning the local qualifier, Schaefer then qualified for the district round and won that after making 17 of 25 free throws on February, 10 at Olathe Middle School. He then moved on to the state finals at Salida High School where he went 22-25 from the line and became state champion on Feb. 24.

Schaefer then became the regional winner on March 16, 2024 at Coronado High School in Colorado Springs after he made 22-25 from the free-throw line. In the regional round, Schaefer beat state champions from Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming.

Dan Schaefer, Wauker’s father, said they found out about the competition last year at the last minute in January of 2023. Wauker wasn’t feeling well before the competition but felt better, quickly learned the format, got in the groove and advanced to the state championship last year.

Basketball is in the Schaefer family so it’s no surprise Wauker has a passion for it as well. His mom and dad both played growing up as well and his brothers play too.

Dan Schaefer said that Wauker has focused on the mental side of the game in his training. Wauker has focused on his mental mindset of staying positive and focusing on his next shot.

“It's been really cool how the community, the school community has gotten behind him,” Dan Schaefer said. “They’ve been encouraging him, they put it on the school sign up by the road wishing him luck before he goes off to a competition.”

Schaefer also was surprised with a signed basketball from all of the Fort Lewis men’s basketball players at halftime of the CSU Pueblo game in Whalen Gymnasium on March 5.

Dan Schaefer thanked Fort Lewis Director of Athletics Travis Whipple and Facilities and Events Coordinator Nathan Snuffer for the basketball as well for allowing local kids to practice shooting inside Whalen. Dan Schaefer said it helps Wauker prepare to shoot in bigger gyms because of the added depth perception inside Whalen compared to an elementary school gym.

According to Waldren, Schaefer is the third kid from the Durango area to become a national finalist in the Elks Hoop Shoot since 2016.


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