By RONNIE THOMAS | The Decatur Daily

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — Connor Sivley slipped an arrow into the thumb release, pulled back his bow and leveled it, drew a bead and popped a small balloon tacked to a target five yards away.

He consistently burst the balloons, then stepped to the 10-yard target on the Youth Archery Range at Point Mallard Park with similar results.

Connor, a second-grader at Decatur Heritage Christian Academy who turns 7 Oct. 2, flashed the form that made him the 2014 Shooter of the Year in the Bow Hunters of Alabama's cub division.

The category is for youngsters 6 to 8, and tournament targets range from 5 to 15 yards. They consist of 20 life-size foam images of animals ranging from antelope, deer, tigers and elk to turkeys, skunks and snakes. A competitor gets 5 points for striking the body of the animal anywhere. From there, points are awarded according to the size of the circles on the target, making 8, 10 and 12 points available.

“He's a pretty cool young man,” said Mark Proctor, of Holly Pond, president of the BHA. “Connor has a lot of enthusiasm for archery, and kids like him are the future of our sport, whether it be archery or bow hunting.”

The achievement is the culmination of six months of archery shooting. The tournament season starts the first weekend in February and ends the second weekend in August. The tourneys are held throughout the state.

“We were up and down the highway as Connor took part in about 16 tournaments from Decatur to a range near Anniston,” said the proud father, Brandon Sivley, who encouraged his son in the sport. “We finished up at Alexander City, and that's where Connor got his award, during a banquet after the tournament.”

Connor placed third in the final shoot, but his cumulative scores throughout the year put him at the top of the division.

“I didn't know I was going to win, and I was surprised to hear my name called,” Connor said. “I was a little frightened. But once I got my trophy, I was happy.”

Brandon Sivley, Connor's mother Juli Henson, also of Decatur, and other family members beamed when Connor stepped forward.

“It was a priceless look on his face,” Proctor said. “You couldn't have wiped the smile off.”

Connor first drew a bow when he was 5, but a year later, after taking part in shoots in Morgan and Lawrence counties, he suffered a major setback.

In September 2013, while in first grade at Decatur Heritage “walking” hand over hand on the monkey bars, he fell and broke his left arm.

“I fell so hard, my face turned red,” Connor recalled.

He underwent three surgeries, and doctors inserted a rod in his arm. The last surgery in March was to remove the rod.

“I missed archery and baseball,” Connor said. “I like both equally. I play shortstop, second base and in the outfield in the American League at Flint. I was glad to get out of T-ball. And I'm anxious to start hunting deer for real.”

Connor has hunted several times with his dad as an observer. But when the season opens in the fall, he will take a .243-caliber rifle into the woods.

“Connor looks forward to trying out his skills at bow hunting one day, but to legally bow hunt deer in the state you have to pull 35 pounds,” Brandon Sivley said. “He now pulls about 22 pounds.”

Sivley said if his son continues to advance his bow skills as he becomes stronger and develops an eye for firing a gun, he knows the thrills that await.

He dropped a doe with a shotgun when he was 7 and bagged a 6-point deer with a bow when he was 15.

“The rules of safety in both sports were the first things we began teaching Connor,” Brandon Sivley said. “He appears to be adamant about it. He won't shoot at any target if anyone is near it.”

As Connor moves ahead in archery, he looks back at the beginning, to the elementary bow he selected at a store in Wetumpka. It is still in use. He donated it to Kerrie Lane, supervisor and archery coach at T.C. Almon Recreation Center for use by novice shooters.

“Archery is a family sport,” Proctor said. “You don't have to be the fastest or the strongest. Anyone can do it, and they can do it equally well.”

Connor hopes to pass on his passion for the bow to his 3-year-old sister, Madilyn Kate Henson Foster, whom he calls only “Sister.” She knows him as “Bubbie.”

But Connor's long-range goal, after he learns “to fix helicopters and airplanes”, is to follow in the footsteps of the likes of the late Howard Hill, of Wilsonville, a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. Hill was a double for Errol Flynn and did the bow shooting for the famed actor in movies such as “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

“I'd like to be a trick-shot artist,” Connor said. “I'd like to shoot quarters out of the air.”

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Information from: The Decatur Daily, www.decaturdaily.com