Hit by Hurricanes

Wilton High School Sports Respond to Closure of Fujitani Field

The+WHS+football+team+now+schedules+practices+on+the+field+in+front+of+Fujitani+due+to+turf+closure.

Ava Marini

The WHS football team now schedules practices on the field in front of Fujitani due to turf closure.

Wilton High School temporarily lost a vital part of the campus in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, when the iconic Fujitani Field was shut down at the beginning of the school year to undergo restoration processes.

Good Morning Wilton’s Heather Borden Herve spoke with Lynne Vanderslice, Steve Pierce, and others to discuss the damage Ida caused Wilton’s beloved stadium. 

“There are pipes that run under to divert water away,” Herve said. “Now, it’s completely blocked up with branches, debris, mud, and rocks.”

Steve Pierce, the Wilton Parks and Recreation Director, told Herve that runoff from Catalpa Road into the surrounding drains and pipes could add to the problem. 

“All that water exits out into the Norwalk River, which gets high,” Pierce said. “When all those things fill up, all the drains back up.”

Unfortunately, this damage prevented some high school fall sports teams from playing on their home fields.

“I absolutely feel their pain,” First Selectwoman, Lynne Vanderslice, said regarding high school athletes. “This is so disappointing. They’ve been waiting for this new track, so hopefully, we can get that cleaned up quickly.”

Coaches of affected teams believe Wilton should be taking a proactive rather than reactive approach for future incidents.

“These types of conditions and schedules are not happening in Ridgefield, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, and plenty of other towns that we compete against year after year,” Coach E.J. DiNunzio, head varsity football coach, said. “If you walk onto most of those campuses, you will find anywhere from two to six turf fields being used.”

Other coaches agree.

“Going forward, creation of a disaster continuity plan for all sports should be considered so that all sports have some alternative,” field hockey coach, Erica Wixted, said.

As a result of the restoration processes, both teams had to relocate their practices and games.

“Football was forced to practice on grass and… field hockey had to alter their practice and use Lilly Field, which is not lined for field hockey,” Athletic Director Chris McDougal said. “These are the most directly affected teams.”

The high school varsity football team has faced some abnormal changes to its practice and game schedule.

“Right now, we are sharing the grass fields in front of the stadium with our freshman and our youth football teams,” DiNunzio said. 

It was difficult to adjust to the change in location. Teams are used to their home base, so it’s strange practicing somewhere else.

“Trying to have football practice on a grass field that doesn’t have goalposts or the markings of a regular football field… is a real head-scratcher,” DiNunzio said. “We try to keep our practices as normal as possible. It is just difficult for the two other levels constantly playing away games, especially with two of our games this year in North Haven and West Haven.”

Nevertheless, morale is still high, and the team continues to keep their heads high. Complaining is kept to a minimum during this difficult time.

Hurricane Ida & wilton by Ria Raniwala

“My kids have handled this extremely well,” DiNunzio said. “They have not once complained and do what they love regardless of the field.”

Similarly, the coaching staff has made the best of the troublesome situation, trying to do everything they can to keep the season as normal as possible. 

“They have done a great job keeping things positive and not letting this tough situation cause us to feel sorry for ourselves,” DiNunzio said.

Wilton’s football team hasn’t been the only fall sports team affected by the field closure. Field hockey and the Marching Band have had to overcome some challenges to continue its season as well.

“Before the closure, we were looking forward to our heavy game schedule, which includes some tough home competition,” Wixted said. “It’s been a month since we’ve played on our home turf, so the majority of our total games have been away.”

Many of the team’s players were disappointed at the prospect of not playing many home games this season. Nevertheless, the team tries to remain optimistic on and off the field.

“For the first couple of weeks, as home games switched to away, the team was disappointed and almost deflated,” Wixted said. 

However, the team has tried to sustain some sense of normality throughout the season by practicing on Lilly Field every day: 

“Field hockey is appreciative to soccer for accommodating us on their field,” Wixted said. “We have been able to secure evening practice time slots every day.”

The marching band has temporarily moved to the baseball field. Without the familiar size and turf markings of Fujitani Field, the band has adjusted by integrating spatial awareness into their rehearsals.

Coaches hope that the unforeseen outcome of Hurricane Ida on Fujitani Field will demonstrate to the town the need for more turf fields to avoid another similar situation. 

Whenever the opening date is pushed back, it’s disappointing, but the team tries to stay positive.”

— Erica Wixted

“It’s time as a town we recognize just how important our athletic programs are and look to turf, not one, but a few different grass areas on our campus,” DiNunzio states.

Despite the field closure, players and coaches are thankful to return to an essentially regular sports season.

“Field or no field, anything is better than last year!” DiNunzio said.