College lacrosse comes to Wilton
Technically, it counts as a home game for the University of Pennsylvania men’s lacrosse team.
But when the Quakers host Vermont in the regular-season finale April 27 they will be 150 miles from their usual home at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.
For that one day, Pennsylvania’s home turf is Tom Fujitani Field at Wilton High School’s Memorial Stadium.
The contest, which pits a pair of Division I men’s programs vying for spots in the upcoming NCAA tournament, is the centerpiece of a two-day lacrosse bash organized jointly by WARF (Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation) and the IMLCA (Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association).
Both teams will have open practices (Penn: 1 to 2:30; Vermont: 3 to 4:30) on Friday, April 26, at Wilton High, followed by a 30-minute forum (4:30 to 5) for youth players with head coaches Mike Murphy (Penn) and Chris Feifs (Vermont).
On Saturday, parking lots open at 8:30 a.m. for a Fan Fest/tailgating that starts at 9 and includes coffee and food trucks, raffles, and sponsor-vendor booths featuring products from Vineyard Vines and Revenant Lacrosse and others.
Gates open to the public at noon, with the game starting an hour later at 1 p.m.
“We began discussions about a year ago with the IMLCA,” said JR Sherman, a former Wilton lacrosse player who is WARF’s president and one of three co-founders along with Dave Clune and David Cote. “We had to compete with several other towns around here, but the IMLCA said Wilton had some big advantages in terms of our facility, the easy access to Route 7, great parking, and stores.”
Formed two years ago, WARF is a 501(c)(3) program whose goal is to aid community-based educational, athletic and recreational programs for Wilton by financially supporting replacement and maintenance of artificial-turf facilities. In September 2017, the Board of Selectmen approved a policy that permits advertising at Memorial Stadium and Kristine Lilly Field, and WARF has since raised money through corporate banner ads at those facilities.
“When the turf fields need to be replaced, it’s expensive,” said Sherman. “Dave Clune, Dave Cote and I wanted to find a way to help raise money. Some other towns, like Ridgefield, were already doing banner ads, so that seemed like a good way to start.”
The game on April 27 features two teams with numerous players from Fairfield County.
Penn’s roster includes former FCIAC standouts Mark Evanchick, Finlay Collins and Jack Joyce from Darien and Simon Mathias from Ridgefield High. Several other players — Will Bergstein (Greenwich), Max Metalios (Riverside), James Campbell (Norwalk), and Mitch Bartolo (Norwalk) — have Fairfield County roots but attended private high schools.
Going into this Saturday’s game against Ivy League rival Dartmouth, the Quakers have a 7-3 record and are fifth in the latest Inside Lacrosse Division I rankings. Penn’s three losses came in its first three games this season and were to teams (Maryland, Duke, Penn State) ranked in the top 10. The Quakers have won seven straight since then, including a 13-12 triple-overtime triumph over Yale, which was ranked second nationally at the time.
Vermont’s roster includes former FCIAC players Ethan Burger and Ryan Dobson of Staples, Ryan Cornell and Liam Rischmann of Darien, and Andrew Bauersfeld of New Canaan. Teammates Jack Knight (Greenwich), Spencer Decker (Stamford), and Matt Sealy (Darien) graduated from private schools.
The Catamounts are 7-4 heading into Saturday’s game against America East opponent Stony Brook. One of Vermont’s losses came against Hobart in a game played March 9 at New Canaan High School’s Dunning Field.
Because Penn is giving up a game at its home field, WARF will cover travel and hotel expenses for the team. WARF will also compensate the Quakers for the money they make at a usual home game.
“These are really good college programs and they still average only 300 to 600 (spectators) at their games,” said Sherman. “We’re expecting between 1,000 and 3,000 people for the game in Wilton.”
WARF and the IMLCA will split the proceeds, according to Sherman, who’s hopeful that Wilton can host more college games.
“Based on how this one goes, there’s a possibility that we could have three to five games here next year, including a women’s game,” he said. “Down the road, we could also look at other college sports playing in Wilton.”
Notes: Tickets for the Penn-Vermont game are available online at imlcagameoftheweek.com.