A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Dayton’s female football player is cancer survivor who earned varsity letters in four other sports

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

Megan Downard plans to enroll in a nursing degree program after she graduates from Dayton High School. The 17-year-old senior chose that career path because she battled leukemia when she was younger and wants to help other people with medical problems.

Dayton place-kicker Megan Downard was crowned homecoming queen wearing shoulder pads and a football uniform. Her escort was quarterback Seth Chinn.

Judging by her list of accomplishments in high school, Downard has the drive and determination to get just about any college degree. She’s an honor student with a 3.7 grade point average who has earned varsity letters in five sports, including football.

In her first season as place-kicker on the Dayton football team, she has scored 11 points by converting eight of nine point-after-touchdown attempts and booting a 25-yard field goal.

“I’m pretty happy with how it’s going so far,” Downard said of her foray into football. “I’m expected to do my job and if I’m going to play a guys’ sport I’ve got to prove I can do it.”

In the football team’s homecoming game three weeks ago, Downard kicked a 25-yard field goal and two extra-points to help Dayton come away with a 17-0 win against Trimble County.

She was also named homecoming queen during halftime ceremonies at that game and received the crown wearing bulky shoulder pads under her No. 85 football jersey.

“It was a pretty amazing experience,” she said. “Everybody on the homecoming court was either a football player or a cheerleader.”

Diagnosed with leukemia when she was in the third grade, Downard said she went through chemotherapy treatments for two years to fight the bone marrow cancer that prevents the creation of blood cells. The treatments worked, but she continues to have tests to make sure there’s not a relapse.

Megan Downard

Downard has been so active in high school sports it’s hard to believe she once had a life-threatening illness.

She has been the leading soccer on the Dayton girls’ soccer team for four consecutive years and a starting point guard on the girls’ basketball team the last two seasons. In track, she qualified for the Class A state meet in the 800-meter run twice, placing third as an eighth-grader and fourth as a freshman. Then she switched to fast-pitch softball and played that spring sport the last two years.

She didn’t become a place-kicker on the Dayton football team until this year because her parents had different opinions about it.

“My dad, he’s always supported me playing football, and my mom, she was just worried about me getting injured and having to sit out because she knows how much I love other sports,” Downard said. “When my senior year came around I thought I’d give it one more shot and my mom finally agreed to it.”

Downard isn’t the first female place-kicker at Dayton, according to head coach Chad Montgomery. Since she’s also involved with soccer during the fall season she just comes to football practice one day a week to work on her place-kicking. But she doesn’t head home after her drills are done.

“The previous girl kicker we had would be on her way, but Megan sits there and watches the whole practice and then hangs around with the guys afterwards,” Montgomery said. “She just wants to be involved in everything.”

Downard’s leg is strong enough for her to do kickoffs, but Montgomery doesn’t want to put her on the field unprotected. If she got hurt, it might keep her from finishing out her varsity careers in soccer, basketball and softball.

“On a (point-after) nothing too bad can happen because the ball is dead if they block it,” the coach said.

Dayton’s football team will play at least five more games. After soccer season ends, Downard will be going to basketball practice while she’s still kicking for the football team. It’s a hectic schedule, but she enjoys sports too much to cut back.

“I definitely wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of my teams, community and family,” she said.


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