Darien captains rally around Trifone during suspension
DARIEN—On Oct. 18, Darien coach Rob Trifone was in his classroom, preparing for practice as he normally would on a Tuesday afternoon.
It would be the coach’s return to the sideline following a two-game suspension stemming from an on-field incident on Oct. 1 when Trifone slapped the back of a player’s helmet after the referees instructed the coach to remove him from the field during an altercation with an opposing player.
To the coach’s surprise, Darien Superintendent Daniel Brenner arrived in his room at Darien High School, where Trifone teaches science, with news that his suspension had been extended two weeks because of a newly found video of the incident — a video that produced no new evidence and only verified what Trifone and 30 interviewed witnesses had already testified to.
Trifone briefly met with his team that day, not to discuss football or game-planning, but to apologize and take responsibility for his actions.
Later that same night, at around 9 p.m., Trifone was at home, helping his son with his homework when the doorbell rang.
When he opened the door and stepped outside he saw 40 other members of the team (including the player involved in the incident) congregated on the front lawn in a show of unity and support for their leader.
“We knew how much this team means to coach (Trifone),” Collins, a linebacker and running back, said. “He’s obviously one of the most passionate guys out here on the field and it was hard for him to not be around us. There was no restriction to us taking action, so we took it upon ourselves after they extended his suspension to stop by and see how he was doing, and I knew that lifted his spirits.”
It very much did, and upon his return to his house Trifone got another surprise as his phone screen gleamed with support from the players unable to attend.
“I was touched by what they had done, and the more I thought about it the more I realized it was all the captains,” Trifone said. “There had to be 40-plus kids there that night standing on my front lawn and when I went back inside my phone was lit up with kids who couldn’t make it and I could tell the captains had canvased everyone.”
The four captains weren’t finished.
With Senior Day festivities set to take place last Saturday before the Blue Wave’s clash with Wilton, the four seniors petitioned Darien Athletic Director Chris Manfredonia and DHS Principal Ellen Dunn with an attempt to reach an agreement to reduce the suspension so Trifone could take part.
“We unfortunately weren’t able to, so we took it upon ourselves to do what was right and stick up for him,” Collins said. “We wanted him on the field for our final game here and we came up short, but the past couple weeks we banded as a unit and as a team and we got stronger as a unit by having to persevere.”
Saturday morning, before hitting the field, the captains and the rest of the seniors once again assembled on their coach’s front lawn, engaging in an unofficial Senior Day so that they could shake their coach’s hand, give him a hug and honor him in the best way they knew how.
“It meant a lot to us and I think it meant even more to him,” Fox said. “We wanted him here today but that couldn’t happen, so we all went to his house and got a little bit of comradery going.”
“Kudos to a group of teenage boys who love the sport of football but have many other things on their plate,” Trifone said. “To take the time out to take care of one of their own, it’s a microcosm of how the team treats each other. Anytime we have someone with some trouble or deaths in families we always take time out to recognize and talk about it, so the payback came to me in a big way.”
And the team didn’t miss a beat on the field either.
During the three games spanning the suspension (one week Darien was on a bye) the defending FCIAC and Class LL champion Wave went 3-0, outscoring opponents 130-36, and growing even more cohesive as a unit.
“I think it bonded our team together,” Stueber, a University of Michigan-bound tackle, said. “We got to motivating the team and strengthening the team as a whole. In the beginning it was hard losing a dynamic coach like Coach Trifone, but the past couple weeks we picked up the slack and I think as a team we got stronger.”
Being away from the sport he loves was difficult for Trifone, but the maturity and leadership exhibited by the Darien captains made it much less taxing.
“I’m sure everyone in the Darien community supports Coach T and everything he’s going through,” Fay said. “We thought it was unjust, but we respected the administration on the decision. We just tried to rally behind coach and support him as much as we could as a team, and I think we made his time away from the game a lot easier.”
As a coach with 38 years of experience and no prior blemishes on his record, the incident no doubt took its toll emotionally on Trifone. But as he makes his return to the sidelines for the final three weeks of the regular season he will be greeted by a team that never wavered in its support.
And that’s something he can be proud of.