After a tenure riddled with controversy, embattled president Matt King resigned from the Milton Broncos on Monday, hours before the school board agreed to a plan that effectively saves middle school football in town.
King resigned on a phone call with Broncos vice-president Rodney Tinker but gave no reason for stepping down. His departure comes amid mounting pressure from parents who have questioned equipment safety and demanded more financial transparency.
Tinker, the new self-appointed president, announced the shakeup Monday night after the school board agreed to run a new 6-8 flag program as a volunteer-led club with no funding.
The vote is a compromise for Broncos officials, who asked the district to fully adopt its grades 5/6 and 7/8 tackle teams and pay for a coach, transportation and equipment.
But trustees delayed their decision twice to press for more detail on the Broncos’ operating costs – the same questions that led some parents to pull their kids from the program altogether.
Unsatisfied with the Broncos’ attempts to answer these questions, board chairman Mike Joseph was hesitant to formalize a middle school team.
“This isn’t the school district’s problem to solve,” he said. “There’s not a lot of solid understanding of the financials here.”
Interim athletic director Trevor Wagar attempted to provide clarity with a spreadsheet showing expected costs and revenue streams. He proposed only fielding one middle school team instead of the Broncos’ two with one coach earning an $1,800 stipend.
Wagar’s budget showed $1,400 for transportation, $1,110 for new uniforms and $200 for referees in year one, costs he said were contained in the voter-approved school budget and would make football the fourth least-expensive of the district’s 13 middle school sports.
In the end, Wagar said he understands the board’s decision.
“I just want to give these kids an opportunity to play the game,” he said. “I don’t want to be buying football helmets when we should be buying special educators.
“Trying it out and trying to self-fund is going to be what we shoot for,” he told the board.
Joseph also spoke to the newness of flag football in middle school, a change that signals the end of an era in Milton. For decades, middle-schoolers have played tackle before going on to suit up Friday nights for the high school.
“There’s still questions everyone has in the room on flag football and this age group and whether they’re going to remain interested,” Joseph said. “We might be three years out and this is a program for 15 kids instead of 30.”
Broncos officials said switching to flag follows a nationwide trend, helped by the stigma against tackle football and its relationship to concussions. But it’s also a convenient out for a program struggling to attract players and volunteers.
Without the school board’s bailout, leaders warned the program would crumble.
The vote essentially puts the new club in a similar conundrum: They must fundraise the estimated $4,600 costs to run the team. The Broncos covered expenses with a $100 registration fee, but Wagar said he would prefer to let kids play free and instead rally around a big fundraising event.
The Broncos had previously offered to donate $4,000 from its coffers to subsidize the school program. But Tinker said he “cashed out” the Broncos’ People’s United Bank account a few days before King resigned, and he didn’t know the balance off-hand.
King was the only person on the account, and Tinker pledged to start a new one — with a co-owner — soon. His main focus is continuing the Broncos grades 1-4 flag team, which will be run under the Northern Vermont Youth Football League this fall as always.
After he kickstarts registration, Tinker said the Broncos need to form a board of directors, another missing piece that characterized King’s tenure: The former president also served as treasurer and head coach.
“This is going to be a transparent program, and I want everything on board,” Tinker said. “I don’t want any questions of what’s going on. I just want it to be straight up.”
King did not respond to an interview request on deadline Tuesday.
Read previous stories from the Independent’s investigation here: