Nickel award: Adversity taught Brosko values of leadership, hard work

Karen Brosko recalls being a freshman at Wilton High School, and working to overcome various hurdles as a 14-year old trying to make the varsity soccer and basketball teams.

“I had to prove myself and work hard. I had to work through a lot of struggles,” she said. “It taught me lessons. It taught me some leadership qualities, as well. I’ve had to be a leader and guide the young players as I’ve gotten older.”

The end result was an outstanding career at WHS in both of her sports — including Wilton’s first-ever state championship in girls basketball — and in the classroom.

Brosko’s final honor came at the recent WHS Senior Sports Awards Night, when she was named the recipient of the Melissa Flanders Nickel Scholarship Award.

The award is given in memory of Melissa Nickel, a Wilton High freshman who was struck and killed by a vehicle while waiting for her school bus in 1985. The $5,000 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, who was known as someone who helped others and was a team player.

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

“I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was so humbled to receive such a great award,” said Brosko. “I couldn’t have done it without the help and support from my family and teammates and coaches and teachers, you name it.”

“Karen is really one of a kind,” said basketball head coach Rob Coloney, calling her one of the most exceptional student-athletes to ever come out of Wilton High School.

“One of the best things about Karen is she always gives you maximum effort, no matter what. She empties the tank for every single person that she’s ever made a commitment to. She is the personification of the award,” he said. “She’s very hard on herself because she wants to be the best she can be.”

Coloney said Brosko shouldered every single bit of adversity thrown at her over the years and emerged stronger for it.

“Whatever was in her way, she’d say, I’m going to take care of it,” he said.

In addition to being a four-year varsity basketball player, and a three-year starter for the Wilton girls soccer team, Brosko was an outstanding student (taking mostly AP and honors courses) whose academic accomplishments were “off the chart,” according to Coloney.

She also spent many hours involved in community sports groups, helping younger athletes. Since her freshman year, Brosko has volunteered with TOPSoccer (The Outreach Program for Soccer). The program, administered through the Wilton Soccer Association, is a modified version of soccer aimed to provide opportunities for young athletes (ages 4-19) with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. Brosko has also helped recruit more high schoolers to volunteer.

“I wanted to find ways to give back to the community. Since I love sports it was the perfect program to get involved in,” she said of TOPSoccer. “I definitely like working with young kids. When I was young I always looked up to high schoolers and my older siblings. I always wanted to work with kids.”

She has also helped younger basketball players, either at clinics or by refereeing games.

Brosko followed in the footsteps of her older sister, Kelly, a 2012 graduate who played volleyball and basketball for Wilton. Kelly was on the 2011 squad that became the first Wilton girls team to qualify for the state playoffs in six years, then returned to states again in 2012.

Later that year, Karen had her WHS debut, making the varsity team as a freshman.

“I was kind of there with high school girls who were a lot bigger than me, and I found a way to beat them [out],” she said.

She did find a way, playing in 14 games that season, averaging 2.3 ppg and 1.2 rebounds per game as Wilton finished one of its best seasons ever at 20-4.

In soccer, disappointment with not making varsity as a ninth grader only made Brosko more determined, and it paid off the next season.

“I had to work harder to prove myself. In my sophomore year I got pulled up to varsity,” she said. Then, she played center midfield for three years under several coaches.

Basketball, however, had become Brosko’s primary focus early in high school.

As a sophomore, she moved into the starting lineup and played in all 26 games as Wilton finished 21-5 and earned the top seed for the FCIAC tournament for the first time, only to lose to Danbury in the semifinals. She averaged 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game.

As a junior, Brosko was a starter on the most memorable team in the history of Wilton girls basketball, as the Warriors finished 25-2 and won the Class LL state championship. She finished third on the team in scoring (7.7 ppg) and rebounding (4.7 ppg) and was named honorable mention All-FCIAC.

“It was really awesome to experience what the girls basketball team did,” she said. “We had one goal in mind — to get to the states and win. The coaches kept us focused and helped us along the way and kept us calm. The community was behind us. The little kids came out to our games. It was a great experience.”

Coloney said Brosko’s contributions that season tended to get overshadowed by those of the team’s four talented seniors — Erin Cunningham, Haley English, Makenna Pearsall and Erica Meyer — but were just as crucial to the run.

“She was always kind of overlooked. Karen was one of the most important players we had and nobody seemed to notice,” he said. “I think that motivated her to be even better.”

The 2015-16 season brought in a new head coach (Coloney) and a whole new team. Brosko was one of the few holdovers from the championship team and served as a captain.

She led the Warriors in scoring (11.2 ppg) and rebounding (5.7 rpg), and also had 1.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game, as Wilton finished 12-11 and won a state tournament game.

Coloney credited the leadership of Brosko for the Warriors’ success in what was a rebuilding season.

“I give her a lot of credit. I think we overachieved this year and I think it was because of her leadership on and off the floor,” he said. “Her contributions were invaluable.”

Brosko earned second team All-FCIAC honors this past season, and was among 13 female players selected to the 2016 Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association (CHSCA) Girls Basketball Academic All-State team — and one of only three players from Fairfield County.

She was also a recipient of the Fairfield County Board of Approved Basketball Officials’ Donald J. Lomme/Joseph A. Gintoli Student Athlete Scholarship Award. Brosko was one of six area players (three boys, three girls) to receive the award, which recognizes achievement on and off the court, including leadership and community service.

Over her four-year career on the WHS basketball team Brosko played in 88 games and helped Wilton compile a record of 78-22. Over her last three seasons she played in 72 of the team’s 74 games, missing only two games her junior season due to an ankle injury.

Her career totals are 608 career points (6.9 ppg), 354 career rebounds (4.0 rpb), 114 assists (1.3 apg), 153 steals (1.7 spg) and 50 three-pointers.

Brosko, who is headed to Wake Forest this fall, said leaving Wilton will be hard.

“I really enjoyed the four years that went by too quickly. I’m definitely going to miss it,” said Brosko, who won't play on the collegiate level, but plans to stay active in club or intramural play.

Coach Coloney, for one, believes all her accomplishments at WHS are only the start for Brosko.

“We will be talking about her for a long time,” he said.