Fifth grader Bella Rodriguez is a deadeye from the free throw line.
Two weeks ago, the Forest Ridge Elementary School student won the state title for her age group in the annual Elks Hoop Shoot, a free throw competition.
“It was tough, but it helps thinking that you’re good before you start,” Bella said.
Her ascension to the top included winning local, all-city, and district competitions before advancing to the state finals. In the first round at state, Bella shot six of 10, but it left her trailing her closest opponent by one.
In the second round, she hit 14 of 15 including an 11-shot streak. She drained 20 of 25 in the finals to take the win.
Her next stop is the regional competition in Washington. If she does well there, she’ll head to nationals in Chicago. South Salem High School alum and basketball star Katie McWilliams was the last Salem-Keizer area student to win a state title in the Hoop Shoot.
Bella has been playing basketball for six years with Keizer Youth Basketball Association (KYBA).
“I like that you get to work hard at a lot of different things,” she said. “I’m also a gym rat.”
She collected three trophies and a medal for her hard work in the Hoop Shoot, but free throws aren’t even her favorite part of the game.
“I like driving strong to the hoop, and then getting extra shots,” Bella said.
Bella is the daughter of Adrian and Kelsi Rodriguez.
Last December marked the 25th year for the Festival of Lights Holiday Parade.
Turns out, it also marked the last parade.
Cheryl and Bob Mitchell, who have volunteered with the parade for 23 years and been in charge since 1999, announced Monday they are retiring and thus concluding the parade, which started in Salem in 1990 and moved to Keizer in 2011.
“We are very excited for our retirement,” said Cheryl Mitchell, the CEO of the parade. “Bob and I were in our late 30s and early 40s when we started with this wonderful event. Now we are in our late 50s and early 60s. It’s time for Bob and I to start enjoying our retirement. Our awesome Board of Directors and operations team have decided to pursue other passions of business and personal interests as well.”
Mitchell thanked all who have sponsored, viewed and participated in the parade.
“The parade has been a very special, magical and exciting event that has been bringing families, businesses and our non-profit community together for the past 25 years,” she said. “This event has been made possible year after year because of the awesome teams and their passion, our dedicated entries, sponsors and community supporters. We feel very blessed and honored that we have been able to produce this wonderful event and create wonderful holiday memories for our local and regional communities.”
Mitchell told the Keizertimes on Tuesday the hope had been someone else would take over the event.
“We looked for someone and no one took it,” she said. “We met with big and small companies. We tried to get people locally to take it and run with it. It’s just time for us to retire. We want to enjoy our retirement while we are healthy. It takes a lot of time and volunteer hours to do an event, 3,500 hours a year minimum. That’s a lot of giving back to the community.”
Last year’s parade came in the midst of several days of rain. The rain stopped shortly before the parade began down River Road, but the weather forecast appeared to keep some people from both participating and viewing.
Weather issues were always an issue to contend with, not surprising since the parade took place the second Saturday of December.
“We had no control over Mother Nature,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “Contrary to popular belief, I don’t have a direct contact with Mother Nature. We’ve been very blessed with the weather. Every time the parade started, the rain stopped.”
Mitchell said not finding someone to take over the event was a sign of the times.
“We really wanted to have a great event and to have someone take it over,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize how much money and time it takes. There’s a new generation that doesn’t do a lot of volunteering. The other thing that needs to be addressed is volunteerism. That’s such a huge part of our community.”
Mayor Cathy Clark met with Mitchell last Saturday and got the news before it went public.
“I’m very thankful for volunteers like the Mitchells who have given so many years of their lives for an event so wonderful for our community,” Clark said on Tuesday. “They have raised so much for non-profits that help the community. They have created so many special memories. I wish them well in their retirement.”
Mitchell isn’t sure yet what her December will look like this year.
“I haven’t had a Christmas for 23 years,” she said. “I’m lucky to get a tree up and lights on each year. It’s going to be real hard. I don’t think we’ll be around for Christmas. It’ll be very hard for Bob and I. We really want to enjoy our retirement. We gave our 23 years to the community. It’s a bittersweet thing for us, it really is.”