A rising Niskayuna High School freshman has dribbled and shot his way to victory in a New York State and international free-throw basketball competition sponsored by the Knights of Columbus.

On June 21, 13-year-old Patrick Connelly  of St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady is receiving a first-place award for making the most free-throw shots in his age group. Rich Sheffler, state chair of the competition, is presenting the award in a ceremony at St. Kateri parish.

Since 1972, K of C councils have sponsored the free-throw championship for boys and girls between the ages of nine and 14. This year’s competition took place April 22 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Patrick faced finalists from across New York State. Each had the chance to make 25 free throw shots. Patrick left with a perfect score: 25 out of 25 free throws made.

“I was really happy that I won,” he told The Evangelist. “I just look right over the rim, line it up and shoot.”

Patrick is one of three international winners from the United States and Canada, listed on the Knights of Columbus’ website, who had a perfect score in the free-throw competition.

The teen said his father and his older brother, Jack, got him involved in basketball when he was younger. Patrick noticed that he “was better at shooting than other parts” of the game.

He joined his parish’s CYO basketball team in fifth grade and has been playing ever since. He’s very focused on basketball, participating in a sports club in addition to playing on the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Terrapins team.

Patrick said he participated in the Knights of Columbus’ competition for “three or four years, but only made it to the third round” of qualifying games.

This year was different: In February, Patrick won the K of C’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Council No. 8121 competition at St. Kateri School in Schenectady, making 13 out of 15 free throws. In March, he won the district competition at Catholic Central High in Troy, scoring 23 out of 25.

Patrick advanced to the downstate regionals at St. Columbanus High School in Cortlandt Manor and made another 23 out of 25 free throws, qualifying him for the finals for the first time.

“I was pretty excited to go to West Point and shoot against the best shooters in the state,” he said.

Leading up to the big day, Patrick said he would go to the Jewish Community Center in Albany and practice, shooting “a couple hundred” free throws.

“The time before the finals, I shot the most,” he said. “One time, maybe two weeks before [the competition], I shot 150 to 200” free throws.

When it comes to technique, Patrick tries not to overthink it. During the finals, he tried to focus on his shooting instead of the judges: “I didn’t let it get to me much.”

Patrick recently graduated from Van Antwerp Middle School in Niskayuna. Going into his freshman year at Niskayuna High, he’s excited to try out for the school’s basketball team.

He also hopes to enter the Knights of Columbus free throw competition again next year. He says he’s “motivated to win again.”