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Darien School Officials React to Latest Turkey Bowl Incident [UPDATE]

Another incident in the Darien-New Canaan sports rivalry, another police investigation, another apology from Darien to New Canaan for bad behavior, more embarrassment.

Update 1:49 p.m., Wednesday:

Rob Trifone, Darien High School's football coach, says that despite the vandalism this year and just before the 2010 Turkey Bowl Game with New Canaan High, he doesn't think the rivalry between the two schools involves more misbehavior than between most other rival high schools.

Trifone, who coached at Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk for 26 years before coming to Darien in 2004, said in an interview Wednesday, "The Brien McMahon and Norwalk High rivalry is just as intense if not more."

He said he recalls misbehavior including spray-painted grass and vandalism to goal posts and a press box in that rivalry.

Asked about the extensiveness of the 2010 vandalism at New Canaan High School and the 2008 violence at Terry Connors Rink between Darien and New Canaan spectators, Trifone didn't change his opinion that the Darien-New Canaan situation is no more intense than most other high school rivalries.

In 2008, according to a New York Times article at the time, county sports league officials forbid New Canaan and Darien teams from playing after dark because, they said, there was more mischief, fighting and drinking associated with spectators at those games than elsewhere in the league.

Asked if the situation has changed much since 2008, he said, "I don't think this rivalry has changed or grown or anything."

In any event, Trifone said, his own responsibility is with the 120 members of the Darien High football program. Parents have the responsibility of monitoring their own children, he said. He noted that his own kids are not out on weeknights, and he knows where they are on weekends.

"The Code"

In this football season, he said, he instituted a stricter policy than the one in the Darien High School Student Handbook for any students in the football program who were caught in any substance abuse. The policy, which he calls "the Code," means any student caught with drugs or alcohol (or found to be around others with drugs or alcohol) will be dropped from the program.

Trifone said the policy was instituted as a reaction to the New Canaan High School vandalism of 2010, although it also comes after an incident at a party just before the 2011 Turkey Bowl in which football players were present when teenagers were drinking alcohol. One Darien High School student at the party was severely assaulted by another student, both of whom were in the football program.

But vandalism, fighting and any other misbehavior that isn't abusing alcohol or drugs isn't covered by Trifone's no-tolerance policy, which he calls "the Code."

"[Other] misbehavior, when it takes place, is handled separately," he said.

Trifone says he's still strict about other misbehavior, and when asked what he would do if students are caught vandalizing, for instance, he points out that two years ago he went above and beyond school policy when Darien High football players were caught vandalizing New Canaan High School.

In that case, the players involved were not just suspended for the two weeks called for in the extracurricular activity policy described in the Darien High School student handbook, he said. He also dropped those students from the team for the rest of the football season.

Locker room security

Trifone said the football program he coaches has nothing to do with security for the locker rooms of visiting teams, something over which he has no control. "I was hired to coach football, not watch locker rooms," he said.

There have always been thefts from locker rooms, he added.

Relationship with the New Canaan High School coach

Trifone said he has long been friends with Lou Marinelli, the football coach at New Canaan High School, and has coached with Marinelli at football camps and clinics.

After the Turkey Bowl, Trifone said, "I picked up the phone and we talked about the game. [...] Although it has nothing to do with any of our teams, I apologized for the idiotic behavior [of the vandals]. He said, 'Don't worry about it, it has nothing to do with our teams,' and I would've said the same" if the shoe had been on the other foot.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

As Darien Police continue the second criminal investigation in two years into an incident related to the Darien-New Canaan football rivalry surrounding the Thanksgiving Turkey Bowl game, Darien school officials point out that at least it doesn't involve current students.

On Thanksgiving Day, someone or some people went into the locker room at Darien High School that the New Canaan High School team was using and took one players' bag and urinated on another. Two years ago, in 2010, some members of the Darien High School football team extensively vandalized New Canaan High School just before the Turkey Bowl.

Mike Sullivan, athletics director for Darien High School was asked: Does Darien High School have a problem handling its rivalry with New Canaan High School?

"This didn't involve Darien High School students," Sullivan said. "I was very proud of the way all Darien sports teams handled themselves this year. Our students have been very well-behaved this past year."

Darien-New Canaan violence

That wasn't always the case in recent years. Four years ago, Darien students at a hockey game with New Canaan got into fights at the Terry Connors Rink in Stamford. Seven boys were arrested.

Although no team members from either side were involved, the New York Times reported, "the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference decided afterward that postseason games between the two schools, no matter what the sport, will no longer be played at night."

The 2008 article continued, "John Kuczo, the executive secretary of the athletic conference, said that there had also been fights between the two schools at other athletics events." Drinking seemed to be involved, and more of it with Darien and New Canaan students than with other schools, he said.

A new matter for the police

A recording from a surveillance video on the day of the latest incident and other unspecified information have been turned over to Darien police who are conducting an investigation, Sullivan said.

Stamford Advocate sports writer Dave Ruden has tweeted that the video shows five people suspected in the incident, none of whom are Darien High School students. At least not now. According to Ruden, Darien High alumni are on the tape.

Sullivan refused to confirm or deny anything about the tape other than that it exists and doesn't raise suspicions about any current students.

Even if Darien High School alumni were involved in the latest Turkey Bowl-related incident, Sullivan said, "these were not Darien High School students, so I don't think it's fair to lump them in. [...] Our students have been very well behaved this past year, so I don't think it's fair to draw that parallel."

Guests and host

Each incident did, however, involve the Darien High School football program, on whose turf the latest incident took place and in which the football players arrested on vandalism charges in 2010 were members.

When a backpack was taken from the locker room the New Canaan High School football team was using and a team equipment bag was vandalized with urine, it occurred when the team was a guest in a Darien High School locker room, specifically a guest of the Darien High School football program.

Both Sullivan and Darien Schools Superintendent Stephen Falcone said that as a result of the latest incident Darien school officials will review how well Darien protects the property of visiting sports teams in the high school locker rooms and try to make sure the visitors' property is secure in the future.

Trifone

DHS Football Coach Rob Trifone didn't return phone messages left for him by Darien Patch on Monday and Tuesday.

Sullivan said he would remind Trifone that Darien Patch would like an interview with him.

Neither Sullivan nor Falcone could say exactly why Trifone had each student in the football program and each student's parents sign an agreement Trifone calls a "Code" relating to student conduct, or exactly what was involved in the Code.

Trifone told the Darien Times that he instituted the Code as a reaction to the 2010 New Canaan High School vandalism incident. The Times quoted Trifone saying, “I ‘upgraded’ the Board of Ed commitment policy which involves a two-week suspension for any violation to a NO tolerance commitment for the football team."

It remains unclear what "violation" refers to or what "NO tolerance" consists of.

In another Darien Times article, Trifone is quoted as saying, "The football Code that the parents and athletes signed simply says that if they break commitment they will be excused from the team for the entire season." The definition of "breaking commitment," according to the article, is "any misbehavior."

Sympathy with New Canaan

Sullivan said he has been in touch with athletic officials at New Canaan High School about the incident and expressed his sympathy in emails, although, when specifically asked, he said he wouldn't characterize any of them as a "letter of apology," a description Ruden used in a tweet.

"I have talked with [New Canaan High School Football Coach] Lou Marinelli and apologized for the actions of very immature community members who may be involved,” Trifone told The Darien Times.

Falcone, a resident of New Canaan, said he too has discussed the incident with New Canaan school officials.

"We have a good, open, working relationship, and as much as we were disappointed with it [the latest incident], they were disappointed with it," Falcone said. "I can say the coaches and the players in New Canaan all responded in a very mature fashion. There was no retaliation of any sort."

Is it worse between New Canaan and Darien?

Falcone said he thinks a surveillance camera has been in place near the Darien High School locker rooms since the building was first opened in 2005. Falcone said he isn't sure whether or not the suspects on the video recording were Darien High School alumni.

Falcone said he also isn't sure whether or not the Darien-New Canaan sports rivalry is nowadays accompanied by more misbehavior than at other schools.

"I know that there are times when I get word that there's inappropriate behavior," he said, "but I haven't followed it enough to know" whether it's worse than elsewhere.

Editor's note: This article originally was published on Wednesday, Nov. 28. The time stamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Home page of Darien Patch.

Shredder November 29, 2012 at 08:32 PM
There is an unmistakable pattern that high school kids drink. It's part of high school and if you find it reprehensible, you're an idiot. To think that Darien football has some unique endemic of misbehavior is ridiculous and you should be ashamed. Statistically speaking, if you'd take a random sample of DHS football players and compare them to a random sampling of DHS students completely removed from the athletics, I think you'd be overwhelmingly more pleased with the character of the former group. Football programs, especially Darien's, breed hard work and camaraderie, and to discount this because its not a panacea is asinine.
Shredder November 29, 2012 at 08:35 PM
And speaking of reprehensibility, disguising your stadium-light-NIMBYism by grossly distorting the magnitude of student-athlete misbehavior is outrageous.
David Gurliacci November 29, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Thank you everyone for your comments. Commenting is now closed.
Ali Abdulah November 29, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Absolutely Correct DT. The Darien Times editorial was also spot on regarding the disgusting behavior, it is NOT kids being kids. And some of those attendees, rumored to be Darien High School alumni, well into adulthood, behaved very badly. What kind of mind-set could motivate these few bad apples to find it acceptable to not only steal equipment from New Canaan football players, but to urinate on it? More than one of these alleged “pranksters” urinated on a New Canaan player’s belongings. Some might say the media sensationalized the story — but an act like this deserves no less than public shaming. The level of disrespect is not only disgusting, it is also degrading — to themselves, to this victimized New Canaan player, and to the town of Darien as a whole. There is only so much the schools, the athletic program, town officials, and the Darien Police Department, on duty at the Turkey Bowl, can do to prevent this type of behavior. At some point, the community needs to look at itself and make a commitment that this type of entitled, disrespectful, immature and illegal behavior needs to stop. This includes examining the culture of drinking and tail-gating at the Turkey Bowl — which some have described as excessive, and could contribute to a lack of self-control. Darien will come to be defined by this behavior — if it hasn’t already.
Pat Alessi November 30, 2012 at 01:40 AM
Thank you Shredder. And yes, I do have evidence as to New Canaan damaging DHS property. Thank you David.

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