WALLINGFORD — Of course there was rust. It had been two years.
But once the decision was made to bring The Wallingford Invitational Soccer Tournament back for the first time since the pandemic shuttered the show in 2020 and 2021, the machine that has produced Connecticut’s longest running youth soccer tourney has steadily warmed.
And it’s humming here two weeks out. The 36th annual TWIST plays the weekend of Aug. 20-21 and Wallingford.
Remember when the third weekend of August meant all-day soccer at Choate, Sheehan, Lyman Hall and select town parks? Full restaurants and hotels at night? Perhaps a longer drive across town, yet a sense that Wallingford was the buzzing hub of something cool?
You’re about to be reminded.
“We’re going to have a good tournament and we’re looking forward to it,” Dave Rodriguez, one of the TWIST directors, said Friday. “Choate and our town partners and all those who help make it happen have pulled together to help us have a great tournament.
“We’re so excited,” Rodriguez added. “The feeback has been great; everyone is just so happy that we’re back. So I think that’s the theme: We’re back.”
The casualty count from the pandemic includes traditions as well as lives. Some youth sporting events ended for good or were greatly truncated.
TWIST returns largely intact and with a new pulse. The Wallingford Youth Soccer League, which stages TWIST, has rebranded as the Wallingford Soccer Club, reflecting the fact that it’s been a long time since the organization was an in-town league.
New blood has brought new energy. That, combined with two TWIST-less years, have veteran hands feeling a sense of renewal.
“I do, and part of it is because we’ve had a regeneration with the Wallingford Soccer Club,” remarked Rodriguez, raving about the diverse skills of club directors Judi Corso-Greene and Sandi Bergeron.
“They’ve jumped on the social media side. They’re doing the registrar’s position; they’re doing uniforms. They’ve just helped rejuvenate the club through sheer effort and a passion for the club and youth sports. They’ve helped me personally quite a bit because they’re carrying a lot of the load, which has allowed me to jump in and focus on other things.”
Rodriguez remains TWIST director with longtime partners Sean Stowik and Brian Burr. They are joined this year by a fourth, Dave Esch, the former sponsorship director of the Wallingford Soccer Club.
Scott Flynn, a tourney vet of 20-plus years, continues to schedule the referees. Lizzy Saia again oversees concessions, vendors, digital platforms, apparel.
Billy Cahoon, who has been aboard for all 36 editions, will again hold down tournament headquarters with his colleague of the last decade, Kristen Plunske. All scores, all issues and concerns, all rules questions feed into them.
Most of the site directors — “field marshalls” in TWIST lingo — are back: Sal DeFillippo, Joey Slavinski, Holly Francke and Javier Reyes.
The head field marshall is new. That’s Nana Esch. She will, however, have the help of her immediate predecessor, Joan Slavinski, who is retiring.
That transition at field marshall reflects what, in the larger sense, is a transitional year for TWIST. It’s been three years. There are new people on the TWIST committee, new folks taking on new responsibilities.
“Very competent, very strong people, and we have good processes in place to set them up for success, but we have a lot of people doing new tasks and it’s going to be a learning experience,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been blessed in our club to have just good people — competent people, good volunteers willing to put in the time and keep something like this going. We are the longest running tournament in Connecticut and it’s just because we’ve had a steady string of ‘next person up.’”
There are also new people for the TWIST committee to work with — for starters, Wallingford Police Chief John Ventura and Wallingford Fire Chief Joseph Czentnar, who were both appointed last summer. The security chief at Choate is also new.
“Sometimes you worry when there’s turnover at high-level positions, but they’ve all been fantastic,” Rodriguez said. “Everybody’s been great to work with.”
While registration is still open, the total number of teams for TWIST 2022 is expected to be down a bit from the 100 of 2019, not surprising given the three-year gap and the likelihood that some clubs booked Aug. 20-21 for another tournament before TWIST was put on the calendar.
It might be just as well. A slightly smaller field should help make this year’s return manageable.
There will be divisions for each age group U10 through U16, boys and girls. The high school age groups, 17 and 18, will likely be combined in a U18 division, although that has not been finalized.
Most divisions will feature 4-5 teams, with the younger ones likely to be higher. The format is pool play. There is no longer a Championship Monday. Pool games determine division champions. If there’s a tie, teams will settle it in a Sunday afternoon winner-take-all.
Quite a few out-of-staters will be on their way. More than a dozen New York teams have already signed up. Teams from Massachusetts and Rhode Island have entered, too.
TWIST’s 30 allotted rooms at Courtyard by Marriott, once again the tournament’s host hotel, have already sold out. The other hotels in the immediate vicinity — Fairfield by Marriott, Homewood Suites by Hilton and the Hilton Garden Inn — should expect some phone calls, if they haven’t gotten them already.
Locally, Wallingford Soccer Club will field a team in more than half of the divisions. Sporting of Middletown will be heavily represented.
Some Cheshire squads have signed him and Rodriguez has been talking with folks at Southington Soccer Club. There are no entries yet from Meriden.
“We’re still getting a steady inflow,” the director said. “If we get 80-90 teams for the first year back, which we should — at least 80 — we’ll be good.”
All proceeds from the tournament go to the TWIST Scholarship Fund and the Wallingford Soccer Field Fund. That date, Rodriguez reported, more than $200,000 in scholarships has been awarded and more than $150,000 has gone to field improvements.
“Going from not knowing when you’re going to be able to play to returning and then ramping up so fast, it’s been good,” Rodriguez said.
“About the only thing we can’t control is the weather. If the weather cooperates, we’re going to have a great weekend.”