Barthold adds Trifone tribute to book about Darien football

Britton Barthold had become frustrated during his football career while at Darien High School, and was thinking of quitting as he went to talk to coach Rob Trifone.

Trifone turned the moment into a positive.

“I’d storm into his office and threaten to quit and he had every right to tell me ‘fine, do it, don’t be a brat’,” Barthold said. “Instead, he would sit down with me, talk me through things, and give me advice that helped me.”

Barthold, who penned the book “12 - The story of the 2015 Darien High School football team” two years ago, will be releasing an updated version with “12: The Trifone Edition” as a tribute following the coach’s retirement from Darien.

The new edition, which will be released by Thursday, June 25, will be available from Amazon for one week only, with 50% of the proceeds going to diabetes research and 50% to ALS research.

The Darien football team was 12-0 Barthold’s senior fall in 2015, winning the final FCIAC championship game, 28-21, over rival New Canaan, and then beating Shelton, 39-7, for the CIAC Class LL title — the first of three consecutive state crowns for the Blue Wave.

It was the culmination of 10 seasons together for many of the seniors, who had been coached by Trifone since the third grade.

“(Trifone) started coaching me, and a lot of the other players, when I was a kid,” Barthold said. “Sometimes he gets a bad rap for off the field situations, but I don’t think a lot of people see what he does behind the scenes for his players. He always took care of the kids first.

“Even in the years after we graduated, he didn’t just dump us because we weren’t on the team anymore. He still stayed in contact, gave me advice and was always open to listening and talking.”

The “12” in the book title refers to Jim Mulhearn, who was an inspiration and considered Darien’s 12th man, a football honor given to someone whose support impacts the team’s performance.

A close friend of Trifone’s, Mulhearn was in a wheelchair battling ALS when the coach introduced him to the team during the 2014 season.

“We saw this man, who was essentially just years from dying, but he was so positive and it rubbed off on us,” Barthold said. “We realized that ‘Oh my God, we have it so good in our lives right now, and we have no idea.’ This guy is still smiling, he loves the game, and he loves being around us as players and kids.”

Mulhearn passed away in August, 2015, just a few weeks before the football schedule started. The Wave dedicated the season to their 12th man. Darien defeated Southington 49-7 in the Class LL semifinals on Dec. 7, Mulhearn’s birthday, and its state championship victory over Shelton came on Dec. 12, or 12/12.

“12: The Trifone Edition” will include letters from the main people Barthold interviewed for the original version, including Christian Trifone, Sam Giorgio, Hudson Hamill, Mark Evanchick and Barthold, along with Jim Mulhearn’s daughter Allison, who attended every game in 2015 and was on the field for every postgame talk to the team.

Barthold said he remembers that Hamill wrote Jim’s name on his wrist tape before every game.

In their letters, the former players addressed the impact both Trifone and Mulhearn had on their lives.

“Throughout my career, you taught me to always be prepared and most importantly, you’re never out of the fight,” Evanchick wrote to Trifone. “Not only did you emphasize this, but having Jim Mulhearn around throughout my junior and senior year really made that point stick. To have a man that was fighting through a horrible disease and would show up every day as happy as could be was an incredible experience.”

Barthold said that Trifone was at Mulhearn’s side in his friend’s final days, and presented him with a Blue Wave helmet.

During an interview with Trifone for the book, the moment Barthold brought up Mulhearn’s name, the coach became emotional.

“He still has trouble talking about him,” Barthold said. “One of the more powerful quotes in the book is from coach Trifone saying ‘I wish I could’ve done more for him.’ He’s not just a football coach, he’s a human being like you or me.

“There’s nothing more he could’ve done, but there was still that connection which was bigger than football.”

Trifone’s Darien teams went 129-26 in his 13 years as head coach, winning three state and four FCIAC championships. That success was even more pronounced during the past seven years, as the Wave was an incredible 81-8 with three consecutive state titles from 2015 to 2017.

“A lot of people, especially in a town like Darien, we’re expecting perfection from a guy like him,” Barthold said. “He reached the mountain top when we started winning state titles, and then people expected that and they expected the players to be perfect. That kind of pressure may have pushed him out of it, but that’s why the notes from these players are important.

“They’ve all got their priorities straight and it’s incredible to see that in these letters that they’re writing, a lot of this came from their high school football coach and his friend, Jim Mulhearn.”; @dstewartsports