If you’ve driven by Darien High School on early fall evenings in the last few years, you’ve likely noticed a glaring issue with the athletic complex.
At one time, there are often 200-plus young athletes using a field because there aren’t enough of them—fields, that is. Darien’s school enrollment has increased 80% since 1990 and 36% of the town is under eighteen years old. Darien is, by far, the youngest town in Connecticut. That can spell some telling issues, space-wise, for a town whose athletic history is as renowned as Darien’s.
Two residents, Mark Maybell and Peter Graham, noticed and started the Darien Athletic Foundation three years ago. “Darien is a sports town,” Maybell, the treasurer of the DAF, says. “Our mission is to support all youth sports in Darien.”
And since he and Graham, DAF president, started the foundation, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
That mission includes turning five grass fields into all weather, multi-sport surfaces; a new grass softball and little league field; re-turfing and lengthening DHS’s center oval field; a new pavilion at DHS stadium with bathrooms, concession stands and a ticket booth; a multimedia video scoreboard at DHS stadium; putting in a running path for the cross-country team, circumventing the Darien High School campus; aiding the sailing team’s fleet replacement; adding tennis courts; permanent lights and a sound system for DHS stadium field, as well as an endowment for future turf replacement.
Some of the changes are already visible, namely the pristine DHS stadium multimedia scoreboard (installed in 2013) and the timeless pavilion, designed by Neil Hauck Architects, built in 2014. The pavilion, complete with a Founders Wall made entirely of honed black granite—every founding donor’s name is etched into its surface—is what Maybell calls “our brick building draped in ivy.”
Graham, president of DAF, notes, “It’ll still be standing long after we’re gone.”
By fall’s completion, DHS’s upper, center and lower oval will be complete; the sailing team has already been able to replace its ship fleet.
The DAF started out as a $7.5 million capital campaign, and in two years, they’ve already raised $6.3 million, the second-largest secular fundraiser in Darien history, behind the Darien Library. The effort will benefit 5,000 youth and 1,000 Darien High School sports registrants.
Best of all? Every dollar of the renovations has been privately donated—including the Darien Foundation, who donated $500,000. Not a dime of public money has been put into the athletic complex revitalization. To become a DAF Founder, one must pledge $25,000 or more (over a five year period); from there, Founder levels are marked at $50K, $100K, $250K and $500K. Thus far, 230 donors have donated to the cause. The DAF is planning a fundraising mailing this fall and Neil Hauck Architects is designing an area in the pavilion to recognize all donors.
“This is perhaps the most collaborative project in the history of the town,” Maybell says. “We didn’t have plans for running paths or permanent lights or sound system when we began.”
Graham adds, “We’ve done over 300 presentations of the master plan at the DAF offices in downtown Darien, to more than 500 people, and some of the ideas suggested by people were incorporated into DAF’s master plan.”
Darien’s youth lacrosse program is the second largest in the U.S. Lacrosse system, youth football is largest in Fairfield County and Darien Little League is the largest in the Eastern Region. The renovations will help Darien High School stop worrying about spacial issues and allow coaches to teach technique more efficiently and effectively, and allow the young athletes to focus on their athletic prowess. And athletic prowess is something Graham knows a thing or two about.
With the University of Notre Dame, in 1988 under all-time coaching great Lou Holtz, he was a quarterback on the National Championship football team. Graham’s son, Tim, is headed into his senior year as the starting quarterback of the Darien Blue Wave football team. Recently, Tim committed to Bryant University to play.
Graham and Maybell note that Darien residents have been nothing but patient and kind about the construction around the high school. They do, however, foresee some controversy over the inputting of stadium lighting.
“Surprisingly, there are a few people who don’t want to see them go in,” Graham says. “But it would make parents seeing their kids’ game so much easier. They wouldn’t have to rush out of work to make it in time, and who doesn’t like playing big games under the lights?”
Thus far, the Darien Athletic Foundation has managed—and seems poised to continue—to shine.
DAF helped the state champion DHS sailing team replace their fleet in 2015
DAF lengthened the field to make it regulation for girls lacrosse and re-turfed with new safety netting. Completed August 2015
DAF Multimedia Scoreboard-Donated 2013
Honed black granite wall recognizing Founders of DAF (31 ft long x 7 ft high). Founders’ names carved into wall, requires a pledge of $25,000, which may be paid over five years
Pavilion Constructed and Donated by DAFD (2014)-Neil Hauck Architects
Photo of oval with LI Sound in background