WALLINGFORD — Youth soccer with a civic-minded TWIST will dominate the scene here this weekend with the staging of a prominent tournament slated for fields at Choate Rosemary Hall and several auxiliary sites.
TWIST, or The Wallingford Invitational Soccer Tournament, begins the 29th year of its benevolent mission today and culminates with championships for teams of boys and girls that range in age from 9 to 16. The proceeds go primarily to scholarship funds for local high school students who have had no less than a three-year affiliation with the Wallingford Youth Soccer League.
“Over the years we have donated $130,000 worth of awards to graduating students who played, refereed or volunteered in any capacity for league service,” said Dave Rodriguez, who along with Bill Hutchinson co-directs the massive undertaking. “The criteria are academic performance, community service and service to our league.”
Players from 141 teams from points in Connecticut and beyond will vie for championships in two divisions. Division I is for premier teams, which draw top regional players to their programs. Division II is for Comp and Classic Teams, or those that come from within the boundaries of their respective towns or cities.
The youngest players -- U9 and U10 -- play an 8-versus-8 version. The U9 teams will play primarily at the East Center Street venue (Vietnam Memorial Fields). The U10 competition is slated for at the Woodhouse Avenue facility.
Aside from a few games at Sheehan and Lyman Hall, the rest of the action will take place at Choate as it has throughout the tournament’s three-decade run.
“Choate has been a great partner,” said Rodriguez, in his fourth year as a director and seventh with the tournament. “We couldn’t do it without them. Eight fields (including two new turf fields) are going non-stop. All the Monday championship games are at Choate. Plus there’s the atmosphere. We get many compliments from spectators as well as coaches because they appreciate the scenery.”
Choate has multiple reasons why hosting the tournament is of mutual benefit.
“TWIST is a wonderful opportunity to introduce thousands of children and their parents to our school and its world-class facilities,” said Lorraine S. Connelly, Choate Rosemary Hall’s associate director of communications for marketing and media. “In previous years, in conjunction with TWIST, our admissions office has held information sessions for interested scholar-athletes who might be interested in Choate’s academic and athletic programs during the year.”
Connelly added that numerous faculty members, as residents of Wallingford with young families, are active in the WYSL.
“Faculty members have actually been coaches,” she said. “There is an involvement between the town, faculty members and the tournament’s organizers.”
In addition to the scholarships, the funds raised by TWIST are earmarked for field improvement.
“Over the years, we’ve contributed to the lighting of two different fields (Pragemann Park and Woodside Field 1) and improvements on the goals, sod and grass,” Rodriguez said. “We work hand-in-hand with the parks and recreation and public works departments. The effects of the field fund are evident. Being able to have night games is huge.”
Rodriguez stressed how TWIST provides a boost to local business.
“Half of the teams are from out of state, so TWIST has a huge impact on the economy,” he said. “There are no hotel rooms left in the area, not only in our town but in surrounding towns. Even though we do concessions, area restaurants are packed.”
Rodriguez’s pre-tournament checklist indicates the scope of the process. He cited the contributions of past scholarship winners, the scores of volunteers and the committee members who oversee the different aspects of the tournament.
TWIST is a family affair for Ray and Joan Slivinski. Ray, president of the WYSL, is the field coordinator. Joan and Gary Funaro are in charge of the field marshals who administer each game and the field crew, which maintains the flow of play by quickly replacing and retrieving balls struck out of bounds.
Mary Carol Bradley has the vital job of supplying cutting-edge technological expertise.
“We have electronic scoring, which we did for the first time last year,” Rodriguez said.
“People get text messages with up-to-date scoring instead of having to go to a tent [to see them posted]. We’ve come a long way and she’s led us down the technological path.”
Tournament headquarters chief Billy Cahoon has been with the tournament since its inception. Bob Chester administers the parking. University of Oklahoma-bound sports information director Brendan Flynn has handled the scheduling for four years. Scott Flynn oversees the game officials.
Meredith Hutchinson coordinates the concession stands, handles merchandise and monitors the extensive list of rental needs ranging from portable restrooms to tents, generators and golf carts.
Kristen Burr makes sure all the trophies are in hand. Players on first- and second-place team in each division receive a trophy. All U10 and U9 players receive tokens of participation.
Rodriguez said Bill Hutchinson deserves the credit for marketing the tournament.
“He oversees things and makes sure we’re moving in the right direction,” Rodriguez said.
Hutchinson works with tournament sponsors Michalowski Insurance, Valente Chevrolet, Evonik Industries and Hunter’s Ambulance.
But why do teams come to town from so far away to be a part of TWIST? Rodriguez noted that the tournament’s reputation is its best selling point.
“The quality of competition is high,” he said. “Year after year you know you’re going to be playing in a competitive tournament. Teams receive GotSoccer Points and are ranked and rated based on these points.”
GotSoccer is a leading supplier of software created for the online management of local leagues and tournaments. Rankings are available on its website: home.gotsoccer.com/rankings.
Because of the respect TWIST has earned, teams accrue points for making the semifinals, the finals and winning championships. The points are used to determine acceptance and placement in some regional tournaments.
Scholarships from last year’s TWIST went to: Lia Gagliardi (Sheehan High/Pace University); Bethany Mallick (Mercy High/University of Delaware); Brian Murphy (Lyman Hall/UConn); Emily Newhard (Lyman Hall/Western Connecticut).