Nickel Award: Downey made her mark putting others ahead of herself

Attending Our Lady of Fatima School through the eighth grade, Meaghan Downey was instilled with a strong sense of giving to others.

She took that attitude to Wilton High School and carried it with her through the past four years, leaving her mark as a leader (and captain) on the girls basketball, cross country and outdoor track teams.

Her selflessness, and leadership, were among the key reasons Downey was the recipient of the Melissa Flanders Nickel Scholarship Award at last week’s WHS Senior Awards Night ceremony.

‘I was always taught to put others first,” said Downey.

The award honors Melissa Nickel, a Wilton High freshman who was struck and killed by a vehicle while waiting for her school bus in 1985.

The college scholarship is presented to the senior female who excels in academics, athletics and community service, in memory of the attitude and spirit of Melissa Nickel.

It is the most prestigious annual honor given to a WHS female student-athlete.

Wilton High girls basketball coach Rob Coloney said Downey embodies all the qualities that the Nickel award represented.

“I have been very, very fortunate in that I got to spend four years with Meg. She’s probably the most selfless kid I’ve ever known. She’s very, very mature,” he said. “She wasn’t concerned with how many points she had. It you watched, the effort and heart was there all the time. It was never about her — ever.”

“It was humbling,” Downey said of the award. “I was in awe of what Melissa had done in the short time she had.”

The award was presented by Melissa Nickel’s sister, WHS senior Olivia Nickel, along with the 2015 Nickel award winner, Makenna Pearson. Three other former winners was also present on stage — Kristin Woods, Casey Pearsall and Sandy Lantz.

Downey played basketball all four years for WHS, and was the only girls basketball player in her class to do so.

Downey’s impact on the court belied her height — at 5 feet, 3 inches, she was always battling much taller players. She made up for that with hard work, hustle and mental toughness.

“She was always the shortest player on the court but she was able to find a way to make a difference,” said coach Coloney.

Downey averaged nearly four rebounds per game, and wasn’t afraid to go up against taller players when getting the ball was on the line.

“I wanted to go out there and get the rebound. People didn’t expect much out of me, but to go at it and battle with the big dogs, it’s exciting,” she said.

Downey progressed over the years of cross country running, earning all-FCIAC honorable mention as a sophomore and junior. Last fall, she captained the team as it finished second at the Class L state championships.

Being captain on the basketball team required a little bit more, and Downey tried to focus on instilling a ‘team-first’ attitude.

“If one person isn’t going 100% the entire team suffers. It was important as a senior to get everyone involved,” she said.

Although the past season was disappointing, give the team’s high expectations, Downey feels next year’s team will learn from the experience and thrive.

“I think next season they’re going to be so strong,” she said.

Replacing Downey’s leadership, however, will be hard, according to coach Coloney.

“Watching her be a leader in practice Is something I’ll really miss. She didn’t have to say much. She just worked so much harder at certain moments than other people. It’s something that’s going to lead her very far in life,” he said.

Coloney added that Downey’s selflessness was “really rare to see” these days.

“I’m really, really proud of her.”

Downey’s resume also includes multiple community service and club activities. She is vice president of the Key Club and vice president of the National Honor Society, volunteers at Our Lady of Fatima, is part of the basketball outreach program at the Wilton Family Y, the diocese youth choir, and Safe Rides. She also works as a para professional at the Y during the summer.

She will be attended Dickinson College in the fall, and is looking forward to the change of scenery and to “dipping my toes into different things” in college.

“I thought that winning the award was a great way to end my time in Wilton,” she said.