WALLINGFORD — At least for this weekend, there is no biggest hotbed of youth soccer in Connecticut than at the 35th Annual Wallingford Invitational Soccer Tournament, which kicked off Saturday morning and runs through Sunday evening.
Close to 100 teams comprised of about 1,700 players descended on soccer fields all throughout town to compete in TWIST, the acronym by which the tournament is known. The vast majority of the teams come from Connecticut, but this year there are teams from Rhode Island and New York playing.
After a year’s worth of planning and hard work, the main thing that TWIST co-director Dave Rodriguez worried about was the weather. “It’s holding off. The weather is looking good. We have to get the games in,” he said.
The teams were split by gender and age group into 15 divisions. Each team would participate in pool play, with the better teams seeded by points (two for a win and one for a tie) to determine participation in the semi-finals and the finals.
“We have a quality product with a repeatable process so people know what to expect,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez and his co-directors Sean Stowik and Brian Burr recruit teams to participate in the tournament, proceeds from which go to fund a local scholarship program.
“It’s a lot of preparation. It takes a small army to run at this scale,” said Rodriguez, who has served TWIST for 12 years. “We want to have a safe atmosphere for kids to have fun and play at a competitive level. The goal is for everyone to have a great experience.”
During Saturday morning’s games at Choate, parents sat in camp chairs along the field, thumbing their phones and commenting about the action on the field. Younger siblings kicked around their own soccer balls. Coaches exhorted their players from the sidelines.
‘They find their niche’
Maureen Vargas of Southington snuck peeks at her book “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” between plays while watching her 13-year-old son Ryan play for CFC Valley 06 Black. “When they pull him out, then I start reading,” she said. “Usually I video everything.”
In many ways, complete immersion in youth sports is a family lifestyle choice. Every holiday weekend is a soccer tournament and there are games every weekend, she said. It’s a full year commitment, Vargas said.
“He started out playing soccer at age 3. He toyed with other sports until he settled into soccer around age 7. They find their niche,” Vargas said.
While Ryan’s baseball schedule was grueling, soccer has been a bit more forgiving. “Soccer has been rewarding. To me, this is an easy sport to manage as a family. I’m one of those people who think anything with family is a positive,” Vargas said.
Joy of the sport
Rodriguez knows the sacrifices families make to foster their children’s sports dreams. If parents encourage their children’s efforts because of the joy of the sport or for the healthy competition, that’s a positive, he said. If it’s to get a scholarship or to play professionally, the odds are simply too stacked against the vast majority of players for that to be a viable goal, he said.
“We try to get parents to be realistic. It is hard to get parents to be realistic about their child’s talent. The higher up the food chain you go, the better the competition. At some point, everyone is good,” Rodriguez said.
That’s for adults to worry about. For the kids, Saturday was a day to take the field and give it their best shot at a sport they love.
Eleven-year-old John Saraceno of Bristol waited anxiously to take the field. He was excited to play in such a big tournament and thought that his team would do well. He started off playing basketball, but decided that soccer was really his game. His reason is simple.
“I just like playing with the ball,” he said.