Wilton youth sports, athletic foundation merge for unified vision

WILTON — A number of youth sports groups are merging to create a unified voice they say will help their joint goals concerning youth athletics and streamline their efforts with the town.

The Wilton Athletic and Recreation Foundation will merge with the Wilton Youth Sports Coalition, which is already comprised of several youth leagues. WARF also proposed chipping in $60,000 fund the town’s feasibility studies for more turf field availability.

“We decided the best path forward was to merge all of this into a single effort with an expanded purpose and an expanded board,” WARF President J.R. Sherman told the selectmen at a recent meeting. “This group would come together for the purpose of, again, collaboration and communication, and most importantly, a unified list of priorities that we could work with the town to help get done.”

An expected merger date hasn’t been announced, though Sherman said the coalition and foundation have been in discussions over the past number of weeks.

WARF started in 2018 and has played a pivotal role in fundraising for youth sports since then, though members like Sherman have been fundraising for longer.

The youth sports coalition was started earlier this year when leaders of various sports and recreation leagues banded together and proposed a public-private partnership with the town on the future of infrastructure planning. Chandra Ring, president of the Wilton Youth Field Hockey program, told Parks and Recreation earlier this year that conversations started after many of the town’s fields, namely the Wilton High School Stadium and Lilly Field, were shut down following the effects of a strong storm that swept through the Northeast in 2021.

Sherman said the goal of this new merger is to meet the needs of all youth athletic leagues and groups. The coalition has six youth sports organizations so far: Wilton Youth Football and Cheer, Wilton Youth Field Hockey, Wilton Soccer Association, Wilton Youth Softball, the Wilton Baseball/Softball Association and Wilton Youth Lacrosse.

All parties need to collaborate, Sherman said, especially in regards to field and facility availability, needs and upgrades.

“If baseball’s coming in and asking Parks and Recreation for this, and football needs this and lacrosse wants to add that, its very difficult for the town to manage that,” Sherman explained. “Inevitably, not through any malice, what ends up usually happening is nothing, because there are too many voices with too many requests.”

Sherman also referenced new Wilton Schools athletic director Bobby Rushton, who has experience working in youth sports, having been the New Canaan Athletic Foundation’s president. Sherman said he brings a “tremendous amount of expertise” and an excitement that he hasn’t seen since the beloved late Nick Zeoli.

First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice lauded WARF’s previous efforts to raise money by hanging banners for local businesses at the Wilton Veterans Memorial Stadium at the high school. That money will now be used to fund the feasibility study. Vanderslice called this a true “partnership with the town,” as WARF had raised the money using a town asset: the stadium.

“This money is really designed to offset town expenses at those facilities and beyond for turfs,” Sherman said. He said that if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, that total to be given back to the town would have been higher.

Allen’s Meadow Fields have been tapped as a potential landing spot for an added turf field, but a selectmen-backed amenities master plan will be tasked with solidifying a location later this year.