Honoring Scholar Athletes: They are from down the street and across the state. They are the best and brightest of us. And with high school sports at a standstill because of the coronavirus pandemic, there is no better time than to make a big deal, a very big deal, of the 360 Connecticut seniors recognized Sunday as CAS-CIAC Scholar Athletes.
A male and female from each CIAC school, whose academic and athletic careers have been exemplary, whose personal standards and achievements are a model to others, have been selected each year since 1984. With COVID-19, the actual banquet could not be held this year. Still, there is a virtual banquet at 6:30 p.m. Sunday on Fox61 and GameTimeCT.com.
We’ll spotlight seven winners here. One’s older sister and mom won the award. One lives in my town. Another brought music when we needed it most. All 360 deserve our applause.
If there is anyone who can appreciate what All-State volleyball player David Niski and the spring athletes at Shelton have endured because of the COVID-19 shutdown, it would be the school’s athletic director.
That would be Niski’s dad John.
“It has been awful,” John said. “We want them out there playing as much as they want to be out there playing. But the kids have been great. And the CIAC has been great in keeping hope alive. Even as that hope gets slimmer and slimmer every day, I think the kids are understanding and appreciative.
“I don’t think there’s a single athlete that’s going, ‘Ah, what are they giving us false hope for? They should have told us no right from the start.’ I think every one of them is holding to any hope they can find and because of that have been training, working out, communicating with their coaches and each other all along. And that part is great for them.”
David, who will attend University of Colorado on a national ROTC scholarship, played football at Shelton. But make no mistake, volleyball is his sport.
“There was so much preparation going preseason,” he said. “I was captain this year. I set up lifting, workouts, meetings. We had a group of young guys. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a rebuilding season. It’s not looking good anymore, but I got to work. I just didn’t get to play. This time of year, I just feel like I should be going into a gym to play volleyball. That has been really tough.”
It would be no exaggeration to say Niski has learned a few life lessons his senior year. With the CIAC points system, Shelton will be remembered for missing the Class LL playoffs even though the Gaels beat NFA by three touchdowns and NFA got in with the same 7-3 record. We can argue that one for years.
“Still, it was a great football season,” said Niski, who caught a 42-yard touchdown pass in his final game against Derby. “And it was great for me. I played varsity as a junior, but this year I was more influential. I got the ball a little more. I connected with the guys better on my team. It was a lot of fun.”
He has a 3.97 GPA. He took part in Unified basketball and Special Olympics. He plays guitar and sings every Sunday at 9 o’clock mass at St. Joseph’s in Shelton, although his group hasn’t been able to do that the past six weeks. He mentors a youth group and works at the church.
Niski had set his priorities. Engineering. ROTC. Then NCAA volleyball. If he wanted all three, the list was extremely short. “One of them was UCLA and UCLA volleyball would have been reaching for the stars,” David said. He will play club volleyball at Colorado.
The ROTC basic military commitment is five years active and three years reserve.
“But I’m looking to be a pilot, so it would be eight years active and three years reserve,” Niski said. “I took an aviation class. I got to fly a plane through the program. It was awesome.”
Turns out David Niski is reaching for the stars after all.
“I’m always excited to see these kids get recognition for the hard work they put in the classroom,” John Niski said. “I’m doubly excited for my own son. My wife and I are bursting with pride.”