How Sunday’s ‘New Canaan Combine’ Will Work [Q&A]


L-R: Lina Welch, Brigida and Chris Falsetta, and Nancy Welch at the N.C. Combine/Gracie Fund tent at New Canaan Sidewalk Sale, 2023.

It’s almost here. The New Canaan Combine is to be held at 9:30 a.m. Sunday at Dunning Field (come down at 9 a.m. for coffee and donuts with New Canaan first responders, courtesy of Dunkin’). Organized by New Canaan’s House of Telos, the Combine will be emceed by New Canaan’s Chris Russo. It’s a friendly athletic competition between the New Canaan Police and Fire Departments that brings in EMTs and members of the community. This year, the Combine benefits the Gracie Fund for Pediatric Cancer through sponsorships, merchandise sales, donations and a silent auction that went live here on Sunday.

Founded by the Falsetta family following a diagnosis of leukemia in their 12-year-old daughter last year, the Gracie Fund has already earned support from local businesses including Plum Plums Cheese and JMG Insurance, and the Combine has brought in additional organizations and volunteers to make it the biggest event yet.

We first connected with Gracie’s dad, Chris Falsetta, back in May to hear about the Gracie Fund and Combine. On Sunday, with just one week to go, we get some details on the Combine itself.

Here’s a transcript of our interview with Chris Falsetta.


New Canaanite: Chris, I want to hear about what will happen Sunday at the Combine—where should people go, what time, what will they see? But first, you and I connected many months ago about this day. Now that we are just one week away, how are you feeling? 

Chris Falsetta: I feel terrific about the event. I feel even better about the people that have been involved in the event. The volunteers of people on the Gracie Fund board, the sponsors, the donors. The response has been unbelievable. The school, the doctors. I can keep going. But I feel very, very good about it. And I feel terrific about my partner, Rebecca Kimball at House of Telos. She is the person that’s put together what’s going to actually happen on the field, and boy, has she done a good job.

Let’s talk about that. So, the Combine, as we’ve been describing it, is a competition between the police and fire departments that brings in the community, as well. And that’s fine for a description because we’ve been interviewing sponsors and others. Now let’s get into some of what actually happens on Sunday. What can people expect?

So first, the Combine starts at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, October 1st, at Dunning Field. When we start the event, what you’re going to see across the field are eight Combine stations. And there’ll be something we call ‘Burpee Zones,’ that’ll be the end zones at Dunning. And each Combine station has a particular activity or event that the competitors will have to do. We break them down into agility, strength, stamina and speed. You’ve got two teams of 20. You have the police team, you have the fire team. Now on those teams, half of the folks on the teams are uniformed police officers, firefighters or EMTs. The other half are locals that have joined the teams to compete with them. And we have some just terrific folks that are competing. What you’ll find is every competitor has to compete at every Combine station. And at every Combine station they compete against somebody from the other team. So imagine each station as a combination of activities. We may have the police and fire going head to head on bikes followed by flipping tires. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Spartan Games or things like that. They’re going to be flipping a 130-pound tire across the field. So that’ll be one event, right? You’ll see that and then you’ll see them switch to the next station and so on and so on. And I think people will want to stay for the final event. That will be a best-of -three tug-of-war. And that’ll be a lot of fun to watch. And the competitors are trying to do two things: They’re trying to win the day for their team, right? And they’re also trying to get the best time or the most points, depending on how we score that station. Because at the end of the day, we’re going to give out a team trophy, the Combine trophy itself. And we’re also going to give out best female athlete, best male athlete trophies.

So there’s scorekeeping that is going on throughout the Combine at these various stations. There are simultaneous competitions happening around different areas on Dunning Field. And how long does the Combine last? How long are these competitions going on for if they start at 9:30?

The Combine will run about 45 minutes. We’ll have a halftime and then it’ll run another 45 minutes. The actual Combine itself is about an hour-and-a-half of activity. At halftime, we actually have a Combine relay race between youth football players and youth softball players. We create a couple of teams and, and they’re doing something that looks a lot like what the athletes on the field are doing, but in a little bit of a streamlined way. 

Among other things, the Combine is a fundraiser. The Gracie Fund for Pediatric Cancer is the beneficiary organization for the fundraising this year. How is money being raised for that cause? I’m guessing you’ve already sold things like sponsorships or merchandise or other things that are going into that fund. What about on the actual day of the Combine, is there opportunity for giving there as well? 

I want to remind people that our primary goal is to host a great community event. We started with that and that’s still our primary goal. Our secondary goal is to raise awareness, and then it’s to raise money for the Gracie Fund and I think we’re going to have a successful event for all three. As far as raising money for the Gracie Fund, we have had sponsorships from many terrific businesses—national, regional, and local businesses. We’ve had individual contributors. We’ve had folks donating silent auction items. We’ve had folks buying T-shirts. Those are all the ways we’ve raised money so far. At the Combine, we’re going to give people a couple of ways to help us raise money. They can buy a T-shirt at the Combine. They can participate in the silent auction leading up to the Combine and at the Combine, and then we’re going to give people a chance to use text to donate at the Combine. 

Chris, what is your understanding of the history of the Combine? For a lot of people, this is going to be the first time they’ve seen it. It sounded, in talking to Rebecca, things had been put on hold during the pandemic.

The Combine started in 2018. It was a biannual event, police versus fire, and it was smaller. It was a much smaller event, never done at Dunning Stadium. Usually done in an indoor venue and the primary purpose of the Combine when Rebecca started it was really to get the police and fire folks together and to just do what we’re hoping to do also, which is to invite locals to come out and get to mingle with their first responders and just, just have a nice morning. We’ve taken that a step further with the combine this year. I think it was probably because of my family’s circumstances and what we saw as a major unmet need and the chance for the Combine to unite the community a little bit. We went ahead with making it, I think, a more involved, larger event, something that’s tailored a little more to spectators.

That’s great. What would you say, Chris, to someone who has been hearing about the Combine and the Gracie Fund throughout the summer and is thinking about maybe coming and checking it out, but isn’t maybe totally sure about their plans for next Sunday?

Frst, please come. The Combine is only a successful event if people come out. It’s free and it’s great for families. This is going to be something I think the kids are going to have a good time, so come on out. There’s no tickets. You can come out and see what you think. And you don’t have to be there the whole time if you don’t want to, but I think once you get there and you see what’s going on, you’re going to want to stay. Keep in mind that, if you want to come, a little before the Combine starts, Dunkin’ is providing donuts and coffee for the crowd at 9 o’clock. That was something that the police asked us to do, because they thought it’d be kind of fun to mingle with the townsfolk.

Is there anything else that we haven’t talked about, with respect to the Combine, that you’d like to tell our readers about?

I would like to let everyone know that our silent auction just went live, Sundy, and you’ll see some messages on our socials about it Monday morning. There are unbelievable items and vacations and all sorts of things and experiences donated by families and businesses in town. Please visit our auction site. Please register and think about bidding. I think there’s some great stuff on there.

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