For nearly 3 million girls and boys, summer is as much basketball as baseball season. They sharpen shooting and ballhandling skills in the largest youth program of its kind, Pepsi's Hotshot competition. Grassroots participation begins at playgrounds and recreation centers during school vacation, then comes a national playoff running from September to April.
Two youngsters who have excelled in Hotshots are not only from the same town, but from the same family. Joe and Laurie Reno, the only siblings to capture national championships in the same year, are actually only part of the Archbald, Pa. success story. Of the 18 champions crowned over the last three years, seven have been from this community of 6,000 people.
Four years ago Father Patrick McDowell, or ''Father Hotshot,'' got the town's program going, arranging practice sessions at St. Thomas elementary school. Though transferred to Williamsport last year, he still follows the progress of his former charges, seldom missing an important shootout.
''What amazes me,'' he says, ''is how little attention the town has given to its Hotshot champions.'' Sports-minded townspeople, apparently, are preoccupied with local school teams. The Renos, nonetheless, have put Archbald on the map.
Since the National Basketball Association co-sponsors Hotshots, Joe and Laurie have competed in Philadelphia's Spectrum and other NBA arenas, where the event captivates fans at halftime. This year's final, held in Phoenix, was taped by CBS and used as a halftime feature during the network's coverage of the Los Angeles-Philadelphia championship series.
A finalist last year, Laurie won the girls' 16-to-18 age division in her last year of eligibility. Joe defended his 13-to-15 boys' title and will now retire from Hotshots. He expects to play varsity basketball next season, which would make him ineligible. There's also a 9-to-12 age bracket.
The object is to score as many points as possible in a minute, with shots taken from five designated ''Hotspots'' worth between 2 and 5 five points. Each player starts at midcourt and retrieves his own rebounds.
Joe Reno developed a winning strategy that ignored the three-point bonus given for shooting from each spot and utilized just one. He made a science of shooting from the D spot 15 feet away to the right of the key. From here, he could run off 10 or more straight baskets once he got into his rhythmic shoot-and-rebound groove.
Joe became so proficient that others began copying him. However, to counter this trend, which gets away from the original Hotshot concept, the bonus for shooting from every spot is being increased to 5 points, with 10 points to those who try twice.