Trevor Hislop had to make a choice. Friday Night Lights? Or early morning tee times.
He picked golf.
The last time Hislop dressed for a CIAC sporting event was more than 20 months ago, Dec. 14, 2019 to be exact. He played sparingly as a sophomore for Newtown, a Class LL football school that does not suffer from sparse participation. Hislop was on of the sidelines when Jack Street found Riley Ward for the miracle 36-yard touchdown pass that won a state championship and touched a nation on the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings.
“It was an awesome experience, unbelievable,” Hislop said. “The way the entire town rallied behind the team, it was amazing.”
Hislop started playing football in the fifth grade, continued through his youth and the first two years of high school. COVID-19 hit in March 2020 and wiped out golf and the other spring sports. He left Newtown after his sophomore year to attend Ethan Allen Prep at the Golf Performance Center in Ridgefield.
“My plan was return to Newtown for my senior year, play football in the fall and golf in the spring,” Hislop said. “And then over the winter, I heard they were changing it to the fall. I was left with a super-tough decision.”
If you think about it, Hislop has gotten a taste of some of the greatest, most disappointing and most debated matters in state high school sports in recent years. He was there when Newtown shocked Darien on the final play. COVID ripped away his best sport, he last played golf as a freshman.
He watched as his friends lived with the spike of emotions of football, no football, football and ultimately no football in the fall of 2020. And as he returned to Newtown for his senior year, he had to decide between his two sporting passions.
He is a Giants fan. Daniel Jones is his guy.
He is a golf fan. Xander Schauffele is his guy.
Pick one. Not both.
The debate on when high school boys golf should be played in Connecticut has gone on for two decades. The weather, playing conditions, one of the tipping points was the increased participation of girls golf in the spring and the difficulty of course availability. After the CIAC Board of Control voted down a proposal in 2020 to move the sport to the fall, the golf committee produced a four-year experiment to split seasons.
Fifty-one teams, including the FCIAC, South-West, Berkshire and about half the CCC, will play in the fall. Nearly twice that many will play in the spring.
“I love football,” Hislop said. “But I had to make a choice. I had to decide between two families. For me, it came down to having a better chance of playing golf collegiately.”
There technically was no high school team at Ethan Allen. Locally, the golfers played Richter Park in Danbury and Salem Golf Club across the border in New York. They traveled to events and competed as individuals around the Northeast. They played in Florida.
“My game improved a lot,” said Hislop, who has lowered his handicap from 8 to 2 since last playing at Newtown. “I was able to drop my scoring average a good amount.”
He said his objective his junior year was to get into a small class size to focus on his academics and raise the level of his golf game. Mission accomplished. There were 13 students enrolled at the school. He was one of the only ones who drove in each day. There was an online curriculum. There were tutors available at the school. He’d play at the Golf Performance Center.
At the end of the school year, Hislop said, he decided he wanted to return to Newtown.
“I wanted to return to represent my hometown and be able to compete with the guys I grew up playing with,” Hislop said. “At that point, I already knew that meant I would play golf in the fall.”
He said he was confident he would have gotten on the field as a linebacker this season. After all that happened, after the success and attention, there is an undeniable romance with Newtown football.
“Of course,” Hislop said. “So it was a bummer. I really wanted to play my senior year.”
As a high school golfer, however, he does much prefer to play in the fall than in the spring.
“It comes right off the summer when you’ve had a lot more time to play and practice,” Hislop said. “The spring is tough when you open your season. It’s freezing cold and you haven’t played all winter.”
By the time conference and state championships roll around in late spring Hislop said he felt he’s back to 100 percent of his game. Coming out of the winter in late March and early April?
“Maybe 50 percent,” he said.
Whether it’s D1, D2 or D3, fall golf can put a developing senior in position to catch more college eyes.
“You ball out in the fall you may have better opportunities,” Hislop said. “Nobody’s at the top of their game beginning of the spring season.”
To avoid cold and unsavory conditions in November, the CIAC moved up the start of the season to Aug. 30, 10 days before the other fall sports. Divisional competition will be held the week of Oct. 18 and the New England championship on Nov. 1. Spring golfers will not have a New England championship, while the fall golfers will not have a state tournament.
The Newtown players already have been out playing nine holes at Rock Ridge Country club, where the Nighthawks play their matches. Captains have been working with younger guys. James Celentano, the No. 1 player last spring, returns as does essentially the entire team. Plus, Hislop.
“We’re already in full swing,” Hislop said. “We had a team dinner Friday night. The culture is definitely coming together. Our team should be really good this year.
“A bunch of the football guys know I wanted to play, but after the golf school I think they figured I’d pick golf. I felt so bad for those guys last year, especially the seniors. They worked so hard. I went to a couple of the 7-on-7 (games) to support them.”
It was May 12, 2020 in the middle of COVID when Hislop, Celentano and teammate Alex Walton decided to get outside and do something substantial in support of the Connecticut Food Bank. Hislop came up with the idea of a marathon golf event and over nearly 12 hours the three played 72 holes at Rock Ridge. They set up a GoFundMe site with an extra $5 donation for every birdie.
In all, they raised $5,700.
“It was so great the way the town supported us,” Hislop said.
And now, having made a difficult choice, having picked his family, he figures it’s time to pick up a few more birdies for his hometown.
[email protected]; @jeffjacobs123
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