Op-ed: Why can’t a private fight remain a private affair?

Two Darien High School students weigh in on the fight that resulted in the arrest and game suspensions of Darien football players before the Turkey Bowl.

Editor’s Note: The following  opinion piece was submitted to The Darien Times by Darien High School students WIll Pegler and Jack Tierney and published at their request.

This past Thanksgiving the Blue Wave Football team (that hadnt lost a game in three seasons) was shut out by – in our opinion – a quite simply average New Canaan team. Everyone understands what transpired the night before the game and how it affected the outcome. Before we write anything else, though, we want to make it clear that we do not support fighting between New Canaan and Darien in any way, and understand that there was some very bad judgement exercised on both sides. What we do want to write about is this: the disrespectful handling of the situation by New Canaan players, parents, fans, and media; as well as the questionable timing of events that prevented three players from playing football on Thanksgiving Day.

  Try to see it from the players’ perspective: they are Varsity football players at Darien High School who have dreamed since third grade DJFL of playing in the Turkey Bowl against arch rival New Canaan with thousands of people cheering them on. On the eve of this monumental game – the last Turkey Bowl for seniors – the team is told that three teammates will not be playing, including the team’s quarterback. Their Turkey Bowl is starting to look very different from how they dreamed it.

     Further, the timing of the three playersremoval from the game resulted in a perception to some that all members of the Darien team were criminalsand an embarrassment to the town. From posters and cheers, the New Canaan fanbase was apparently buying into that narrative. Why should all of these players whove done nothing but give all they can to a program — who have had their final Turkey Bowl changed for them on the night before — be called criminals?

  Heres what we do know: on the night of Nov. 6 at around 11:15 p.m. (17 days before the Turkey Bowl) there was an altercation between students from Darien and students from New Canaan. The altercation took place on Old Kings Highway in New Canaan. According to many witnesses, it was a consensual, albeit stupid, fight. Given that the fight occurred at private property and the evenings events are under investigation, it is up to the judicial system to unravel the events of the night and to decide the culpability of those involved — it should not be up to the New Canaan fanbase to try the case out of court and jeer at the players who were on the field that day.

    What raises the biggest question is the timing on the part of the New Canaan Police Department in its timing of calling in the three players. The incident took place on Nov. 6t and the warrants were not issued until the night — the night —before the game, November 22nd.

   The New Canaan football team was 7-2 going into the Turkey Bowl game and were facing a sixth straight Turkey Bowl loss and needed to win this game in order to qualify for the state Class L playoffs. If the team lost, it would be the first time in 12 years that the Rams had not made the state playoff tournament.  This game was a “must win” for New Canaan.

     While  probably far from the actual circumstances, it is difficult to think anything other than it was strategic that the New Canaan Police decided to exercise the arrest warrants on the eve of the Turkey Bowl, giving Darien no time to prepare and adjust its lineup. One wonders if the arrests would have been expedited or delayed further if the accused were not the quarterback and two other key players. Football fans know that quarterbacks are virtually irreplaceable, especially late in the season.

     Further, the timing of the warrants seems designed to not only disrupt the team set-up but also to kill the team’s morale. The Darien team was not aware that the arrests would take place that night, and that game suspensions would follow.

       It also seems that the New Canaan news media may have been alerted to the arrests.That evening, the NewCanaanite and the New Canaan Advertiser had two of the students’ mugshots up on their websites’ homepages. The fact that students from another town were made front page news seems insensitive and opportunistic at best. (Editor’s note:The New Canaan media received the press release and mug shots at the same time shortly after the arrests and published them at that time.)

There is also disagreement about whether or not Darien Public Schools was ever notified that three of its students were suspected of criminal acts and might be subjected to arrest. While New Canaan Police Leon Krolikowski released a statement saying that “Darien High School leadership” (as reported by the New Canaan Advertiser) was informed of what took place as early as Nov. 7, the day after the fight, Darien Superintendent Dr. Daniel Brenner responded in a statement that: “No one from the Darien High School Administration nor anyone on staff of the Darien School System had official information provided to them from the New Canaan Police Department concerning the alleged incident between certain Darien and New Canaan students prior to Wednesday night, Nov. 22 at 6:45 p.m., the eve of Thanksgiving.”

As support for our assertion that the timing of the arrests portrayed the entire Blue Wave football team as a disgrace is the behavior of many New Canaan fans. During the game, New Canaan students and fans brought with them posters of the DHS studentsmugshots, calling the Darien players criminals and convicts. This was a disrespectful act, both to the accused as well as to the innocent players on the field that day. Further, a New Canaan student put shirts on sale that read, Catholics vs. Convicts, portraying the New Canaan players as rule-following saintsand Darien as the exact opposite. The shirts were unoriginal and unfunny, an obvious ripoff of the shirts made by Notre Dame students when they played Miami in 1988. The shirts, posters and chants were not designed to hearten the Rams but targeted the Blue Wave players in a disrespectful and unsportsmanlike manner.

What was also disturbing at the game itself was the treatment of the New Canaan student who was allegedly part of the fight and who was not charged with criminal actions stemming from the altercation. After New Canaan won the game, the team hoisted the student (who is not a player) up on its shoulders and called him the MVP of the game, almost as if he were the savior of the Ramsseason. The team took several pictures with the accuser showing him holding the trophy. This student was being treated as having played an active role in the New Canaan victory.

The ensuing drama between the two towns does not end with studentsbehavior at the game itself. New Canaan residents and others are commenting on social media posts — at least one on a college recruiting page — emphasizing the studentsarrests and mentioning their alleged crimes. The way many residents of New Canaan have handled this controversy has been tactless and without merit, as many people were quick to listen to alleged events, then label all Darien players as criminals.

The timing of the issuing of the warrants we believe inflamed this reactionary behavior and gave both school districts no time to get in front of the disrespectful behavior of the New Canaan fans. The timing promoted the case to being front page news and incited members of the community to try the case outside of court via the rumor mill. Being students ourselves, we have always been told the basis of the justice system is built upon the ideal that a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. After watching this controversy play out, we have yet to see this inalienable right being practiced by many members of the New Canaan community.

 

The football season is now over. The Blue Wave, without two of its key players, won the Class LL State Championship. For those in surrounding towns, however, the all Darien players are convictsnarrative has continued. Greenwich fans were seen sporting Cardinals vs. Convictst-shirts at the championship game. It seems that the only people who did handle this fraught situation with any class are the Darien players themselves, who just went out and played football, fighting through hateful rhetoric coming at them from many angles. Its without argument that this is the number one team in the state, on and off the field.

 

Even recently the states newspapers have spent time approaching this story from an angle that created more drama.This type of irresponsible journalism sets a precedent for other competing writers to blow up stories in order to gain sales or clicks. We wish the writers realized that these stories affect studentsmorale and psyches. It is unfortunate that studentsprivate lives have become easy news.

 

Unlike celebrities, the members of the DHS student body are private citizens who have not sought out the limelight of public scrutiny.  It seems appropriate at this time for the furor to die down, for the public at larges attention to turn to more important matters, and to allow all students at DHS to enjoy the holidays free from unwarranted scrutiny and attention.

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  • Jess Allen

    The accused football players chose to get in a car and go to the home in New Canaan. No amount of trash-talking can physically transport someone against their will to go in search of someone to start a fight. They could have easily chosen to ignore the entire situation and absolutely none of this would have come to fruition. To whine about how unfair it is after the fact is ridiculous. Timing of arrests aside, the team could have been whole and victorious had they exercised good judgement in the first place. I have lived in Darien since 2000. During this time, only students and football players from Darien have been found vandalizing the New Canaan stadium with spray paint, urinating on the opposing teamu2019s belongings during a game and traveling to a neighboring town with the plan to beat somebody up. So, if New Canaan and Greenwich fans choose to paint all players from Darien as convicts, perhaps you should look in the mirror for a bit, and as a group, decide you donu2019t want all of your years of hard work at football to be spoiled by the errant few. Put the pressure on yourselves and your teammates to stop making decisions that can end with a mugshot being published in the newspaper. Take the high road and you can all celebrate a well-earned victory together. Are the kids in our neighboring towns all angels? Probably not but they seem to have slightly better impulse control or more leadership/fear of consequences instilled by their coaches. Making spectacles of yourselves by calling out others for poor sportsmanship is just another embarrassment. Blame the loss on the players who lost it for you.

    • Trailblazer09

      Well said. Agree 100% with Ms Allen. Impulse control is a major factor here & knowing when to walk away when you are being baited into a fight. Hopefully everyone learns from this incident.

  • Chris Noe

    This is a black eye for both Darien and New Canaan. nGreat op-ed by Will and Jack. On the spot honest report of what happened. Thank you, this needed to be done to prevent it from happening again. nSpray paint and urinate are totally separate issues not to be considered here but some must grasp at straws in their own defence. nnCongratulations on the win. nGO BLUE WAVE

    • Jess Allen

      My own defense of what? I live in Darien. Spray paint and urine show a pattern of troubling behavior for which there have been consequences that had an affect on game outcomes and criminal records. Learn from past mistakes. Bottom line, if the kids who were arrested chose to stay at home, they would be the champions and going to off to college with no black marks on their records. They shot themselves in the foot. What happened in New Canaan after the fact with police and fan behavior would never have happened if these kids just stayed home.

      • John Sini

        Let’s be clear, the urination incident was allegedly done by individuals that were long gone from DHS.

        • Jess Allen

          They were DHS grads. Doesnu2019t matter if they were in college when they did it. Only makes it all the more pathetic, to be honest.

          • John Sini

            Agreed, 1000 percent!

        • Carol

          Two of whom were the former First Selectman’s son’s. You can’t make this stuff up.

  • Carol

    The short answer is that once charges are filed with the police a fight is no longer a private matter even if it’s “consensual”.nnI would be more sympathetic to your premise had two of players in question not had pending “priors” that were waiting for resolution in the CT Judicial Court system. If the game was not enough of an incentive you would think that both players would be doing everything possible to keep squeaky clean records so that the judges deciding outcome of the “prior’s” would see fit to dismiss charges. To do otherwise shows an astounding lack of judgement.nnAs far as Darien Football’s reputation as a team of convicts the moniker seems well earned. Besides the most recent fight, the urination and graffiti incidents let’s add Coach Trifone’s three suspensions last year, the 2013 dismissal of D line coach after he tried to beat up half the Norwalk police department upon being pulled over for driving on his rims and the player suspensions prior to 2013 Turkey bowl after a fight between a former player and current player on that team. nnInstead of trying to defend all these events that in the end gives the Town of Darien a black-eye, a better editorial might be one that calls for an end to all these nill conceived actions by Blue Wave football players.

  • Jess Allen

    I am dumbfounded by the people making comments on here and Facebook about this and saying things like u201cwe won the championshipu201d and u201cNew Canaanu2019s win has an asterisku201d… These 3 players handed the Turkey Bowl win over by their own choice. Can you honestly say that Darien students wouldnu2019t heckle and cheer in the same exact way if the situation was reversed? There is nothing about this situation that needed to be trotted out one more time in an opinion piece. I wonder if the high school administration oku2019d reopening this can of worms in such a public way? Did Will and Jack run any of this conspiracy theory past the coach before going to print? Did they ask him what he knew and when? Whether or not the Superintendent received official news about this, I find it very hard to believe the administration and coaches were not well aware of what transpired and the potential consequences. Everybody in Darien was talking about it. At the end of the day, it is a football game and even the state championship, which is an accomplishment, is also just a game. Is having colleges rescind offers of admission worth it?

  • Capt. Christopher Jones

    It seems to me the students involved in the altercation, on both sides of the border, met and shook hands to put a gentleman’s end to the conflict that had been brewing over social media. The student from New Canaan ran his mouth and incited, received a corporal reprimand, and accepted the consequences of his smack talking. It wasn’t until the parents of the New Canaan student inserted themselves in the situation and decided it was worth potentially ruining the future of the students from Darien by contacting the police….this could have been resolved through a mediator, or by the New Canaan student insisting to his parents it was fair retribution for his actions and that they not get involved. As we are beyond that point, it has been brought to my attention the New Canaan student’s parents are members of Country Club of Darien. Have they been black balled there, and if not, why?

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