August 17, 2014 01:00AM
By Dan Brechlin
WALLINGFORD — The town had a significant growth spurt this weekend thanks to The Wallingford Invitational Soccer Tournament. Close to 9,000 people from around the state and the rest of the Northeast were estimated to be in attendance during Saturday’s soccer festivities, which will carry on today and Monday.
The 30th annual TWIST event kicked off Saturday morning with hundreds of games on the schedule for the three-day period. A total of 139 teams were registered for age groups spanning from under 9 years old to 16 and under.
“It’s been a great first day,” said Dave Rodriguez, who co-chairs the event with Bill Hutchinson. “Everything got off on time, there’s been a lot of competition, the games are going well, and everybody seems to be behaving themselves. The weather is perfect; it’s great soccer weather.”
Twenty fields are used for the tournament, spanning throughout much of Wallingford. While most of the action takes place at Choate Rosemary Hall, both Lyman Hall and Sheehan high schools showcase games, as does Pragemann Park, Woodhouse Avenue and East Center Street.
“It’s impressive how well this is organized,” said Dan Turley, who made the trip with his family from Massachusetts to watch his 12-year-old son, Matt, play. “You can tell a lot of hard work goes in. We were looking around for parking because it’s so packed, but the kids are enjoying themselves and playing some good soccer. Now we have to find somewhere to eat.”
Businesses in the area reaped the benefits of the soccer tournament, with small plazas in the immediate area “packed,” Rodriguez said, and families spread all throughout town. There were also few hotel rooms left in town, if any, with some teams staying in Waterbury and Cromwell.
“Just up the road on East Center Street, every time I went by they were just jammed with soccer kids and families,” he said. “It’s just great to see.”
There are also several food vendors that attend so that people do not have to go off-site during the day for food if they do not want to. Waiting for the next game to begin, 15-year-old Chase Hardwick, of Madison, said the tournament was going well as he got a quick bite to eat before another game later in the afternoon.
“It’s nice because it’s not too hot today,” he said, eating a cheeseburger. “Hopefully tomorrow isn’t bad.”
The event has grown significantly since its inception in 1984. Just before then, Rodriguez, said there was a small gathering of teams as part of a jamboree. Soon thereafter, the girls and boys squads combined for a tournament, which has grown since.
“Everything starts somewhere,” Rodriguez said. “It’s really amazing to see what this has become.”
Games will start up again today as early as 8 a.m. and continue throughout the afternoon as they did on Saturday. The final rounds are scheduled for Monday morning.