WALLINGFORD — When the soccer game was through Saturday at the Woodhouse Avenue field, Jane Schmitt packed up her folding chair and waved to her son Rob.
Just like old times.
Except at The Wallingford Invitational Soccer Tournament, “times” don’t really get old. They seem to morph into a constantly regenerating present.
Not long ago, Rob Schmitt was a boy growing up in Wallingford and playing TWIST games on fields like Woodhouse Avenue. Now he’s 45, living and coaching in Warwick, Rhode Island, and bringing his Ocean State teams to his hometown tournament year after year.
Schmitt and his GPS Rhode Island U14 girls team are aboard for this year’s 35th annual. They opened tournament play Saturday winning a pair of games and they’ll be back at Sunday in what looms as a collision with PSC Dynamo for the division crown in the afternoon at Choate.
Schmitt’s teams have won TWIST titles before. He’s been coming home to TWIST for about a decade, first with his son Robby’s teams and now with his daughter Sophia’s squads. You can add to that the tournaments he played in as a kid and the ones in which he volunteered as a college student.
“I was in the third TWIST tournament and I’ve been involved with TWIST ever since — I think there’s just three or four years that I haven’t been involved,” Schmitt said Saturday after his team dispatched the Wallingford Wreckers, cleaned up its bench and prepared to head back to the Hilton for a pizza party.
“It means everything to me,” he added. “Stepping back onto Choate Rosemary Hall is the greatest thing ever. It’s so nostalgic just to go back there.”
Schmitt is Exhibit A when it comes to what TWIST, in its ideal, is all about. He played in the Wallingford Youth Soccer League from age 6 through Lyman Hall.
When it came time to head to college, Schmitt, one of four brothers, received a double TWIST scholarship — he believes it may have been the only time that’s happened. The money, part of the $193,000 TWIST has awarded over the years to graduating WYSL players, helped get Schmitt through Providence College.
“They gave me a huge chunk of money to go to college. It was that combination that helped me so much.”
Schmitt has been in Rhode Island since graduating PC. He’s a certified public accountant by day and a soccer coach after hours.
Schmitt makes sure TWIST is on his teams’ travel itinerary, though it’s not like he needs sentimental reasons to hit up Wallingford every third weekend in August.
“It’s a great format overall,” Schmitt said. “So many other tournaments are just disorganized. This one just flows so smoothly from the second you sign up for it all the way to the end for the awards ceremony on Monday.”
Schmitt credits veteran TWIST co-director Dave Rodriguez and his staff of volunteers for that.
“More than any other tournament director I’ve ever worked with or seen, he has everything smooth sailing and under control. Even when I was with him last night, two problems came up and he snapped them back into shape in, like, two seconds.”
It’s taken Schmitt a bit longer to mold his GPS Rhode Island team. He’s been coaching his current cast of players since they were as young as 6 and 7. It’s an impressive squad, blessed with technique, speed and endurance.
And unlike many tournament teams, it’s not a premier squad or a hand-picked group of All-Stars. The majority of GPS Rhode Island is from a single team in one of Warwick’s two youth leagues.
Schmitt is out of step with his players on one account. He is a transplanted Yankees fan. They, to a girl, are Red Sox fans.
They didn’t give their coach guff about it Saturday. After all, they were on his home turf.
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