If you are reading this you likely have some interest in local high school football, which means you probably saw the video that was circulating on various Darien High School athletic social media accounts earlier this week.
In it, Bridgeport Central coach Derrick Lewis can be seen talking to an unknown gathering. Blue Wave coach Rob Trifone is visible in the foreground.
Lewis says, “This game is tough enough. After we’re done playing, we’re all brothers.” Trifone nods his head affirmatively.
As you no doubt learned or figured, the audience Lewis was addressing were the members of both the Darien and Central football teams. They had just finished playing — the Blue Wave predictably won, 36-0 — and headed to the Darien cafeteria for a joint pizza party.
This is the second straight year the teams shared postgame pepperoni. Before coming to Darien, Trifone had a long tenure as coach at Brien McMahon, which falls in between his current location and Bridgeport on the socio-economic chart. Lewis would go on to become an offensive line coach for the Senators after Trifone departed.
Both coaches soon became friendly.
“I come from Brien McMahon and I know that those programs need help or someone to reach out, if you will, so last year I called him up and I said look you’re coming to our place, we’d like to sit down and have pizza with you,” Trifone said, referring to Lewis. “The only rule is you have to sit down next to someone from the opposing team. It was wonderful last year and it was even better this year. A lot of those kids had done it last year and they were looking forward to it. Both coaches spoke about what a great game it is and at the end of the day we might be in battle on the field but once we walk off the field we’re all brothers with common goals. It was a very good thing.”
The idea was a huge success, another example of sports being an extension of the classroom.
Lewis’ goals were and are dual. Most obviously, he would like to build the type of program the Darien players at a certain level have to take for granted. The 18-game losing streak the Hilltoppers are trying to end would be unfathomable to them.
“It’s really a good experience because it is kind of a behind the veil type thing,” Lewis said. “Everybody knows how great the programs, Darien and some of the other teams in are league, are and we’re trying to uphold our standards. First of all for the city of Bridgeport and our school, and hold the standard for our conference by competing and getting better. It’s always good for my kids to experience and their kids to experience who’s behind those facemasks. Connecting through social media and being helpful to one another.”
Darien and schools in other affluent towns have helped where they can donating equipment to schools like Central lacking the necessary means. John Carlozzi, the Blue Wave’s strength and conditioning coach, who owns Vibe Fitness in Rowayton, even took it one step further. Last summer he paid to have several of Lewis’ players transported by Uber to and from his gym to train for several weekends.
“He’s amazing,” Lewis said. “We have some amazing, amazing friends in the sport. We don’t have as much as the average bear. Wins and losses come and go, but I have to say within our conference and within our state we are very, very respected. We’re very knowledgable and I think they respect us for it and they respect the job we’re trying to do here in a situation that isn’t familiar for many people.”
Darien was crushed after losing in the state quarterfinals a year ago, ending a three-year reign as champion. Qualifying for the postseason would be Candyland for the Hilltoppers.
While Lewis, adored for his outsized personality and highly regarded for his irrepressible approach to what some consider an unreachable goal, appreciates the help from others, he also knows to take the next step the Hilltoppers have to start from within.
“One of the most hurtful things that I see in our city is the lack of support our kids get for playing athletics,” Lewis said. “I don’t care if its soccer, or volleyball or whatever. My biggest complaint is that we must support our youth, we must support our kids. We must. It is a civic duty for our community to support our kids for anything they are doing positive.”
Lewis mentioned having about 20 players leave the program. Some needed to get jobs, others needed to babysit after school because they came from single-parent families.
As we spoke Sunday afternoon, Lewis’ tone changed. He apologized and said he felt the need to get on his soapbox. I told him the remainder of this space could be his megaphone.
So I turn it over to Lewis:
“We are missing an opportunity to encourage our kids for something that they want to do. When I look on the sideline and see 36 kids, I know I can have 65 if I had parental involvement. Our principal and our administration have been so great. They have done everything they can to make sure our kids are engaged and get the full high school experience. But we fail as adults supporting our kids. I don’t care if the score is 100-0, if your kid is out there and trying to do something positive, you need a positive group of adults trying to help them, not just in football but in life.
“The only thing that we ask, and I don’t care if it’s Brooklyn, I don’t care if it’s Detroit, I don’t care if it is Philadelphia or in our case Bridgeport. Somebody has to come and support our kids other than the student body. It is very, very hurtful. This is my second time in Bridgeport, my second tour of duty I call it. These past two years remind me of the first two years I had when I was a coach at Bassick. Parents because they are working or quite frankly because they don’t want to get off their lazy tails don’t go to the games. Everybody is not working. There are ones that are working and trying to provide for their families, but 80 percent or 90 percent, they just don’t come.
“Some of my parents came to Darien and after had a chance to mingle with their parents. It was a wonderful thing. What we did after the game was a wonderful thing. Hopefully it is something that will start making a difference.”
1. St. Joseph (7-0). The Cadets will use these final weeks to stay sharp before the state playoffs.
2. Darien (8-0). Norwalk’s offense will be a good test for the Blue Wave heading into the Turkey Bowl.
3. Greenwich (7-1). A win over Ridgefield should get the Cardinals back into the state tournament. A loss could provide some slight angst.
4. Ridgefield (5-1). The Tigers have their biggest game in two years at Cardinal Stadium. A win puts them in control of their postseason destiny.
5. New Canaan (6-2). Who figured Friday’s game against Wilton would have playoff implications for both teams? This is the Warriors’ biggest game in ages.