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Murph’s Turf: 10 sports stories for 2012

It was a year of triumphs, breakthroughs, good deeds, bad behavior and high-profile visits for Wilton sports in 2012. Following is a list of 10 of the year’s most memorable stories and events:

1. Casey Pearsall knew she had been named one of two state winners for the 2012 Wendy’s High School Heisman Award. But she didn’t know she had also been named one of 12 national finalists. Pearsall, a three-sport standout at Wilton High, found out during an assembly inside the WHS gym that included fellow senior class members and teammates, as well as Wendy’s executives and an ESPN camera crew. Pearsall, who will play college lacrosse at Notre Dame, attended the Heisman awards weekend in New York, but she was not chosen as one of the two national winners.

2. In the span of three days last summer, Wilton was host to some major tennis royalty. Mats Wilander, a former world number one men’s singles player and winner of seven Grand Slam titles, brought his Wilander on Wheels youth program to the Four Seasons Tennis Club. Two days later, twin brothers Bob and Mike Bryan, fresh off an Olympic gold medal victory in men’s doubles at the Summer Games in London, played a benefit exhibition match at the Lake Club.

3. For the first time in 35 years, the Wilton Little League 12-year-old All-Star team won a district championship. The squad, which had previously won district titles as 10- and 11-year-olds, dominated the District 1 tournament, finishing with a 7-0 record that included an 11-3 pasting of Stamford National Lione in the finals. The fans at the title contest included Andy Borglum, a member of the last Wilton team to win the district championship back in 1977. Borglum spoke to the current Wilton players after their victory.

4. Another youth baseball event provided one of the year’s lowlights. A 33-second video, filmed on a cell phone and posted online, showed the assistant coach of a Wilton 11-year-old summer league team ranting and raving at an umpire. The clip, which became a hit on YouTube, and sparked complaints about behavior at youth sports contests, didn’t capture what had already transpired: The Wilton manager getting thrown out of the game by the umpire, who was acting belligerently himself. Nevertheless, the video demonstrated the need for self-restraint, particularly in today’s social-media saturated environment.

5. A swim in the Hudson River, followed by a lengthy bike ride on the West Side Highway and a run around Central Park? Amy Bevilacqua certainly didn’t mind. The 38-year-old Wilton mother of four finished first in the women’s division at the 12th annual Aquaphor New York City Triathlon with a time of two hours and four seconds. The Olympic-size event featured a 1,500-meter swim, a 24.8-mile bike ride, and a 6.2-mile run.

6. Basketball has long taken a back seat to other sports staples such as soccer and lacrosse in Wilton. Last winter, however, a hoop renaissance was in bloom. The Wilton High boys basketball team finished the regular season with a 10-10 record and qualified for the state tournament for the first time in 12 years. Meanwhile, the WHS girls went 13-6, made the FCIAC tournament for the first time since 2003, and got its first conference playoff victory since 1996.

7. The Wilton High field hockey team continued its stellar play in 2012, winning a second straight Class M state championship. The Warriors were nearly perfect this season, finishing with a 21-0-0-1 record. The only blemish was an overtime loss to Greenwich in the FCIAC semifinals.

8. Dilllon Lifrieri’s rewards program turned out to be a benefit for New York Yankees great Mariano Rivera. The 13-year-old Lifrieri met Rivera after Lifrieri’s father won a silent auction for a clinic and lunch with the Yankees’ relief pitcher. Lifrieri was so impressed that he donated proceeds from the money he raised from family members, friends and others for his baseball performance to Rivera’s charity, The Mariano Rivera Foundation. The gesture led to a surprise visit from Rivera during a Ridgefield Babe Ruth winter workout session earlier this month that Lifrieri attended.

9. Superstorm Sandy put area sports in their place, postponing the Brooklyn Nets first-ever home game and canceling (eventually) the New York City Marathon. The Fairfield County high school sports season was also interrupted, most noticeably — and oddly — the conference playoffs. Unplayable conditions led to delays that resulted in organizers trimming the post-season tournaments in several sports, with semifinal winners being named co-champions.

10. Football-related concussions were a hot topic throughout 2012. Concerned about health risks, many parents debated whether or not to encourage, or even allow, their children to play football. The nation’s biggest youth football program, Pop Warner, announced practice changes aimed at minimizing contact among players. But the local Fairfield County Football League, in which Wilton teams play, decided it was already progressive enough in regards to concussion policy and opted not to make any adjustments.

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