Wilton Sports Night: DiNanno wins Corr Award, Bonnist wins Nickel Award

The annual Wilton High School Senior Athletic Awards Night is always a special opportunity to connect current student-athletes to Wilton’s traditions and past players — and more so than ever at this year’s ceremony Tuesday night.

The list of honored names — Lt. John G. Corr, Melissa Nickel, Art Well Jr., Nicholas Madaras, Andrew Dunn, Bill Terry, Sam Hingston, Sam Bowman, Marce Lavin — span generations of Wilton sports.

John Wiseman, a 1986 WHS graduate and longtime boys lacrosse coach, set the tone when he presented the T.J. Pramer Scholarship Award.

“These awards are in honor of some great people. I would ask the recipients, take the opportunity, if the family’s are willing. Ask them about Art, ask them about Melissa, ask them about T.J. They were impressive people and you’re getting something in their legacy,” he said. “Obviously there’s something that you did that demonstrated and showed those same qualities, and it’s a pretty awesome thing. Take that opportunity. I think it will mean more to you and mean as much to the family.”

He continued, “Relish in the award but take a moment to reflect on the true honor of that individual that the award is given. I think we’ve lost a little bit of that and there’s something in there.”

Lt. John G. Corr Award

The ceremony witnessed the 51st awarding of the Lt. John G. Corr Memorial Scholarship — the school’s oldest award and probably the most prestigious award a male student-athlete can receive at Wilton High.

The scholarship is awarded annually to the WHS male student-athlete who best exemplifies the character, dedication, leadership and conduct both on and off the field of John Corr, a 1962 Wilton High graduate who was killed in action Dec. 28, 1967, at Quang Nam in South Vietnam.

“Loyalty to friends, teammates and coaches, they were deeply ingrained in his character. He was never known to belittle his teammates or peers. He would make any sacrifice to help his team be successful,” said presenter Franey Donovan of Corr, who was a captain in three sports. “John’s most outstanding overall trait was quite simply that he was a winner. He would never quit no matter what the score.

“He was simply able to rally people through the strength of his convictions.”

This year’s recipient was Jack DiNanno, a three-sport athlete who was captain on the football, hockey and baseball teams. He was a first-team all-FCIAC and first-team all-state offensive lineman in football, and all-FCIAC East Division pick in baseball.

“He excelled at each sport and has been recognized for his leadership and sportsmanship. As a student he has been recognized by his teachers and Wilton high school administration as a highly respected student leader who earned a 3.5 g.p.a.,” said Donovan. “This is a young man who always kept his team first and never was consumed with his own personal goals. He is highly regarded by his teammates and fellow students in the Wilton community at large. He conducts himself with class and distinction on and off the field. Those who know him are proud to call him their friend.”

He continued, “He is a person of high moral character and someone who strives to do the right thing. He is a great friend to others and through his compassion and loyalty he will always be there for them.”

Melissa Nickel Award

The presentation of the Melissa Nickel Award was an emotional moment.

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 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.

The presenter, 1988 WHS grad Meppy Cote, choked up several times as she shared her memories of Melissa Nickel.

“Melissa was my best friend. In June of 1985 Melissa was tragically killed while walking to her bus stop just two weeks before the last day of school our freshman year,” she said. “Melissa was a ray of sunshine, always smiling, always friendly and always helping others. She would strive to do her best on and off the field with the most positive attitude. Melissa was a diligent student and one of the hardest-working athletes I knew.

“She was cheerleader, a swimmer and a runner,” she continued. “Melissa was the ultimate team player that all coaches love to have on their team.”

This year’s recipient was Julia Bonnist, a three-year varsity lacrosse player and four-year varsity ski team member, serving as captain the last two seasons. She also played soccer, cross country and, this past fall, volleyball.

“She has grown into a mature, selfless team player with a warrior’s heart,” siad Cote, who coached Bonnist in lacrosse as a third grader just starting out. “Her ability to balance life on and off the field is admirable.”

Art Wall Jr. Scholarship

The 19th annual Art Wall Jr. Scholarship was presented by Art Wall’s sons, Kevin and Brian.

Kevin Wall remembered a man for whom community service was second nature. Art Wall died in 1999 at the age of 59.

“I think he’d be annoyed if he knew there was an award in his name,” said Kevin, a 1988 WHS grad. “He just did stuff. He did it because it needed to get done and he just wanted to help out. That’s what we want to acknowledge with the award.”

His father, he said, was always involved in sports associations — football and lacrosse — and helped form the Wilton Sports Council, who was instrumental in getting the first lights up at Memorial Stadium.

He was also involved with Wilton Parks and Recreation for many years, and helped organize the effort to bring back the town Fourth of July fireworks in 1993, after the money had been cut from the town budget.

Art Wall was also one of the founding members and chairman of the annual post graduation party.

“Thirty years ago I was sitting right there,” Kevin told the students in the audience, “and I got to go to an outstanding event my graduation night. It was a huge group of parents that pulled that off and it’s been a fantastic tradition since then.”

Wall said the first and foremost characteristic when considering candidates for the award was an “active and consistent role of community service,” in addition to athletic participation, dedication to academics and exemplary character.

This year’s recipients were Addie Tanzman, a member of the volleyball team, and Kyle Maatallah, who played on the boys basketball team.

“The candidates change every year but what doesn’t is the caliber of the people we get to review,” Wall told the students. “It continues to blow my mind how much you guys can get done in the classroom and on the athletic field and still find time to dedicate to the community.”

To all those candidates for award who didn’t win, he simply urged them to keep up the good work.

“Please continue to do the job that you’ve been doing as you continue through life.”

T.J. Pramer Scholarship

The T.J. Pramer Scholarship Award honors the 2004 WHS grad who passed away in 2008. He was a member of the Wilton ski and lacrosse teams.

Wiseman, who presented the award, said he coached Pramer when he was in the eighth grade and recalled him as a tremendous teammate who also carved his own, unique path through life.

The award honors a “unique individual who has those qualities to bring together others while at the same time being very comfortable and confident in taking their own path, and having that strength and conviction and compassion for others,” he said.

“TJ always came home to Wilton, It was a special place for him. What made TJ unique was that he was an individual, he was a character. As much as he was an individual, he relished in our community and being a member of a team, a group, an organization. He was comfortable in his own skin,” Wiseman continued. “He invited others in. He made anything and everyone better for being part of that team.”

The award winner was Matt Arrix, who played for Wiseman on the boys lacrosse team.

“He was his own unique self but he very much brought the team together. He did whatever was required,” Wiseman said. “He was very comfortable, like TJ, in his own skin.”

Nicholas Madaras Scholarship

The Nicholas Madaras Scholarship Award was presented by longtime WHS boys soccer coach Jim Lewicki, who also was overcome with emotion as he recalled his former player.

“Nick was a great person. He was an outstanding athlete. He was a character on the team.”

Madaras, a 2004 graduate, played varsity soccer for three seasons and after graduating helped out the following season as manager.

He then enlisted in the Army and was killed in action in Iraq in September 2006 at the age of 19.

The annual scholarship recognizes two senior soccer players who best embody the leadership, commitment, sportsmanship and teamwork that characterized Nick Madaras’s contributions to the WHS community and to his country.

This year’s recipients were Kevin Connolly and John Zizzadoro.

Lewicki, a 1977 WHS grad, followed up on Wiseman’s earlier comments and urged recipients to learn more about the people their awards honor.

“Find out who these people really were, what they did. I think it’s important to know that person themselves,” he said.

Alex Balitsos Scholarship

This year’s ceremony introduced a new award, the Alex Balitsos Memorial Sportsmanship Scholarship. The award, which honors the 2009 WHS graduate who passed away last year, goes to a male and female student who exemplifies the true meaning of sportsmanship.

The female winner was Lizzie Lynch, who was a captain on the cross country and track teams.

“(She) leads in positivity at all times. Even at times when others are being negative she builds them up and leads others to do the same,” said director of athletics Chris McDougal, reading from the citation. “Her spring season was surrounded by clouds of negativity and uncertainty. As one of the captains of the track team she focused not on herself but on her teammates, to give them the best possible experience she could for the rest of the season.”

Zach Zeyher, a four-year varsity wrestler and three-year varsity lacrosse standout, was the male recipient.

“He is the leader on his team and will always do the right thing even when it’s not the most popular thing,” said McDougal. “During the wrestling season, after the varsity matches were completed, (he) agreed to wrestle a JV match to give an athlete from another school with special needs an opportunity to wrestle. When asked, ‘Why did you do it?’, he simply replied, ‘It’s just the right thing to do.”