But once the decision was made to bring back the Wallingford Invitational Soccer Tournament for the first time since the pandemic shut down the show in 2020 and 2021, the machine that spawned Connecticut’s longest-running youth soccer tournament replayed.
And the buzz is here after two weeks. The 36th annual Twist Festival plays the weekend of August 20-21 in Wallingford.
Remember when the third weekend of August meant all-day football at Choate, Sheehan, Lyman Hall, and select parks in the city? Whole restaurants and hotels at night? Perhaps a longer drive through town, but does it feel like Wallingford was the bustling center of something great?
You are about to be reminded.
“We’re going to have a good tournament and we’re looking forward to it,” Dave Rodriguez, one of Twist’s managers, said on Friday. “Choate, our partners in our city and everyone who helped make this happen have come together to help us have a great championship.
“We are very excited,” Rodriguez added. “The bounce has been great; Everyone is so happy that we are back. So I guess that’s the point: We’re back.”
The death toll from the pandemic includes traditions as well as lives. Some youth sporting events have been permanently terminated or have been significantly truncated.
The Twist returns largely intact and with a new beat. The Wallingford Youth Football League, which consists of TWIST, has been renamed Wallingford Football Club, reflecting the fact that it has been a long time since the organization was a domestic league.
New blood brought new energy. That, combined with two years less of a twist, has veteran hands that feel a sense of renewal.
“I do, and in part because we’re renewed with Wallingford Football Club,” Rodriguez said, raving about the diverse skills of club managers Jodi Corso Green and Sandy Bergeron.
They have jumped at the side of social media. They do the position of registrar. They are dressed in uniform. They have just helped rejuvenate the club through sheer effort and passion for the club and youth sports. They have helped me personally a lot because they carry a lot of burden, allowing me to jump in and focus on other things.”
Rodriguez remains the director of TWIST with his old partners Sean Stowik and Brian Burr. They are joined this year by a fourth, Dave Esch, the former sponsorship director of Wallingford Football Club.
Scott Flynn, a veterinarian of over 20 years, continues to schedule referees. Lizzy Saia once again oversees franchises, sellers, digital platforms, and apparel.
Billy Cahon, who has been aboard all 36 editions, will hold the championship seat once again with his teammate of the last decade, Kristen Blonsky. All the scores, all the issues and concerns, all the grammar questions are fueled by it.
Most of the site managers – “field rangers” in Twist parlance – are back: Sal DeFilippo, Joey Slavinsky, Holly Frank and Javier Reyes.
New Field Marshall Chief. This is Nana Ish. However, she will have the help of her immediate predecessor, Joan Slavinsky, who will retire.
This transition in Marshall reflects what is, in the larger sense, a transitional year for Twist. Three years have passed. There are new people on the Twist Commission, new people taking on new responsibilities.
“Very competent people, very strong people, and we have good processes in place to prepare them for success, but we have a lot of people taking on new tasks and it will be a learning experience,” Rodriguez said. “We in our club are blessed to have only good people – competent people, good volunteers who are willing to take the time and get on with something like this. We are the longest running championship in Connecticut and just because we’ve had a steady streak of ‘next person.’”
There are also new people on the Twist Commission to work with — for starters, Wallingford Police Chief John Ventura and Wallingford Fire Chief Joseph Ksintnar, who were hired last summer. Choate’s head of security is also new.
“You sometimes get anxious when there’s a turnover in high-level positions, but they’ve all been great,” Rodriguez said. “It was great working with everyone.”
While registration is still open, the total number of teams in the 2022 TWIST is expected to drop just below 100 in 2019, which is not surprising given the three-year gap and the prospect of some clubs booking August 20-21 for another tournament. Pre-twist put in the calendar.
It may be. The slightly smaller field should help make this year’s comeback manageable.
There will be sections for every age group from U10 to U16, boys and girls. It is likely that the two secondary school age groups, 17 and 18, will be merged into an under-18 section, although this has not yet been finalized.
Most divisions have 4-5 teams, and younger teams are more likely to be higher. Coordination is playing pool. There is no longer a championship Monday. The pool matches determine the division champions. If there is a tie, the teams will decide it on Sunday afternoon on Sunday afternoon the winner takes it all.
Quite a few occupants outside will be on their way. More than a dozen teams have already signed up in New York. Teams from Massachusetts and Rhode Island also entered.
The Courtyard by Marriott, once again the tournament’s host hotel, has sold 30 rooms designated for TWIST. Other hotels in the immediate vicinity – Fairfield by Marriott, Homewood Suites by Hilton, and Hilton Garden Inn – should expect some phone calls, if you haven’t already.
Domestically, Wallingford Soccer Club will play a team in more than half of the divisions. Sporting Middletown will be heavily represented.
Some Cheshire teams signed on and Rodriguez was talking to the folks at Southington Soccer Club. There are no entries yet from Meriden.
“We’re still getting a steady stream,” the manager said. “If we get 80-90 teams for the first year, which we should – at least 80 – be good.”
All tournament proceeds go to the TWIST Scholarship Fund and the Wallingford Soccer Field Fund. To date, Rodriguez reports that 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 coming back and then speeding up really fast, it was fine,” Rodriguez said.
“The only thing we can’t control is the weather. If the weather is cooperative, we will have a great weekend.”