A longstanding Milton youth sports program has lost its nonprofit status after struggling in recent years to overcome a reputation of dysfunctional leadership.

Records from the Internal Revenue Service show the Milton Broncos youth football program’s 501c3 status was revoked last year after Broncos president Matt King failed to submit required financial disclosures for three consecutive years.

Those forms, known as 990s, allow the IRS and the public to scrutinize a nonprofit’s operations, including its finances, in lieu of paying federal taxes. The Broncos have also failed to file biennial reports with the Vermont Secretary of State for years, terminating the program’s business registration in Vermont, a database shows.

King didn’t know the Broncos fell out of federal compliance until the Milton Independent informed him in January – five months after the IRS officially rescinded the nonprofit status.

“Hm. I’ll have to call them,” King said when asked after a team meeting. Weeks earlier, when the Independent asked for copies of the 990 forms, King deferred to the Broncos’ vice president, Rodney Tinker. Tinker claims King never shared any financial documents with him.

King said no one has helped him keep documentation in check. He called it an “oversight,” but said he applied for a new nonprofit status earlier this month.

“I’m looking to the future,” he said.

But some people currently and previously involved with the Broncos say disorganization has defined the program since King took over, and the nonprofit lapse is just the latest financial oddity under his tutelage.

Parents say it’s jeopardized the program’s future, and now they want change.

‘Nothing to hide’
The Broncos field teams for grades 1 through 8 and serve as a feeder program for Milton Yellowjackets football. They’re a part of the Northern Vermont Youth Football League, which includes more than a dozen teams across the state.

King has 15 years of youth coaching experience, including eight here in Milton. He took over the Broncos presidency a few years ago after, by his account, the former president left the state and dropped the program on his plate.

Since then, he’s juggled roles of president and treasurer while coaching the 7th and 8th grade tackle team – a position he’s resigning this year to spend more time with family, he said.

King explained his wide-ranging involvement stems from the lack of volunteers. He’s stepped up, he said, because no one else is willing to take responsibility. That’s why he shrugs off parental concerns like those raised by the Independent after a team meeting in January. They don’t understand “all the hidden costs,” he said, adding all the money raised pays the Broncos’ bills.

“I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

King initially agreed to provide bank statements, the only way to track the Broncos’ spending. Ten days later, he sent statements from June to December 2017 but omitted July. Several others showed only the beginning and end of the month, skipping pages in between.

The missing documents detail transactions of at least $9,000.

The Independent asked King for those pages, plus statements from 2016 and the rest of 2017. After several email exchanges in February, King stopped answering. He responded last week when given a final opportunity to comment.

“If it was not for me in trying to do what I could there would of been no Broncos years ago,” King wrote. “I did what I could and so yes I made some mistakes.” Still, he refused to provide the missing pages and called discussion of the past a “distraction.”

King isn’t required to disclose the Broncos’ bank statements. But his vice grip on the program’s books has led to unease from some parents who question how the team spends its money.

One of those parents is Shoshawna Mastin. She pulled her son out of the Broncos after the 2016 season over concerns with King’s leadership. She thinks King holding multiple board positions is a conflict of interest and said he was unwilling to buy new equipment until parents “forced” him.

Then-league president Glenn Cummings attended a parent meeting in 2016 after fielding complaints ranging from unequal playing time to financial mismanagement.

In the world of youth sports, playing time gripes are common, and Cummings acknowledged hearing similar complaints from teams around the league. But that’s usually from teams fielding dozens of players. Milton’s 7th/8th grade team had only 20.

“If you can’t get 20 kids in a game … well, there’s an issue,” he said. Cummings shared ways to make Broncos leadership accountable. Atop the list: forming a board of directors.

“You can’t just have the head coach of the 7th and 8th grade team calling the shots and making the choices for everything,” Cummings said. “Because who do you go to if you have a problem with the coach? The coach?”

Nearly all nonprofits are governed by boards that oversee operations and finances. IRS best practices say board members should be independent from staff – in this case, coaches. And the National Alliance for Youth Sports recommends regularly sharing monthly bank statements, receipts and a synopsis of expenditures.

King said he addressed the “confusion” by implementing a board. But no one seems to know who’s on that board, including King. He named several parents who, when asked, weren’t sure of their role or didn’t know they were official members at all. King, meanwhile, maintained his dual positions, and it’s unclear if anyone besides him has seen the financials since he assumed leadership: He appears to be the only authorized person on the team’s People’s United Bank account.

“I’ve never had any issues,” he said. “I always just take care of everything.” He said parents only complained in 2016 because the Broncos had just lost two games in a row.

“Nobody said anything when we were winning ball games,” he said.

King had much to say about the cost of a youth football program, however. He pointed to the jamboree, an all-day event that hosts teams around the state at Milton’s Bombardier Park. In return, the Broncos keep profits generated from sales to the thousands of people who attend every August.

But King said that comes with $6,000 in upfront costs. He fired off a few: $4,000 for food, $1,400 for rescue services, $1,300 on tents, tables and chairs. And a $3,000 profit is quickly spent on the $1,400 league fee and $1,300 for team equipment storage, he said.

The Independent found some of these figures are clearly inflated.

The actual cost to hire emergency medical services last year was $450, as shown on the jamboree’s permit approved by the town. And the league charges each program $1,200, according to Cummings.

The Independent requested bank statements because King shared many of these numbers off the cuff. But the missing pages make the program’s true cash flow impossible to track. For example, the statement for August 2017 – the month of the jamboree – shows the Broncos brought in $15,250 and spent $8,570, but a single missing page includes $5,700 in income and $3,800 in expenses.

When the Independent requested a breakdown of jamboree expenses for 2017, King presented his official record of the cash flow: a list scribbled on a hotel notepad.

Dan St. Hilaire, a parent who coached one of the Broncos’ flag football teams last year, received a similar document when he made the same request. King added in a packing slip for soda.

“That’s not the way that it needs to be done,” St. Hilaire said. “There’s a lot of cash that changes hands, and it’s up to a true board to implement a process that’s accountable.”

The league holds the jamboree in Milton to help the Broncos financially, according to Chad Cioffi, league president for the 2017 season. But the league’s executive board has pushed to move it in recent years, Cioffi said, because King and Tinker have repeatedly cited rising costs and claimed the program makes little off the event.

Cioffi said he first heard concerns about the Broncos when Cummings, the former league president, gave him a rundown of each program.

“When he got down to Milton, he said, ‘I don’t know what the heck’s going on with the money there, but you might get some complaints about that,’” Cioffi said.

Current league co-president Tony Arcovitch said a parent called him earlier this year with concerns about equipment and handling of money. Arcovitch said he called King, who ensured him all equipment was up to date and that he had receipts for purchases. Arcovitch never saw these receipts, however. He assumed King presented them to the Broncos’ board.

The league officials said programs are independently governed, and the league doesn’t exercise much authority. It’s up to local programs to police themselves, they said.

“The league just wants you to pay your league dues,” Cioffi said.

Rebuilding
Dan St. Hilaire didn’t expect to spend his free time drafting legal documents for a youth football program. But he’s one of several parents writing new bylaws to present at a Broncos meeting on Thursday. He coached last year because no one else would lead his son’s team. That’s why he empathizes with King’s predicament: King has no background in leading a nonprofit, and he’s held multiple positions because no other parents have stepped up, St. Hilaire said.

Now St. Hilaire wants to fix the Broncos. But he knows progress has one potential roadblock.

“Right now, [King] has full control over the books,” St. Hilaire said. “As much as he’s said that it’s kind of an open book policy, it’s been difficult for him to provide any of that.

“It should be simple to go to the bank and request bank statements,” he said.

If adopted, the bylaws would form a board with a designated treasurer and allow for the removal of board members. They also require a yearly financial report and authorize a second person on the team’s bank account. St. Hilaire said that will allow the board to secure documents for an internal audit.

The Independent spoke with several parents who declined to go on the record about their experience with the program because they preferred to focus on the future. St. Hilaire hopes for the same, but he believes if King isn’t on board with the changes, most people will abandon the program.

He’s one of them.

King said he supports bylaws. He hopes they will improve bookkeeping, encourage parent involvement and bring more transparency. He, too, wants to move forward. But something needs to change, he said.

“If I don’t get help from other people, I’m not doing it,” he said in January.

Rightfully so, said Chris Coppins, a former Broncos coach who blamed Milton’s struggles on a “community problem” that has nothing to do with King. He thinks King is being attacked for doing something good for Milton, and parents should have stepped up when they had the chance.

“A lot of people need to mind their own business,” Coppins said.

Mastin scoffed at claims that parents aren’t involved. She said she and her husband offered to take over the annual calcutta, which King canceled last year after he couldn’t sell enough tickets. When Mastin’s husband was nominated to serve on the board, King shot him down, she said.

“Parents are willing,” Mastin said. “He refused to give up control.”

St. Hilaire said the program has just enough players to field a 7th/8th grade team, but it needs at least five more to feasibly play this season. He said a delayed recruiting process isn’t helping those efforts. But he, like most parents who spoke to the Independent, believes there’s still hope for the Broncos. He pointed to a fresh wave of 11 first-graders who joined last year, creating an additional flag team.

“This program can be great again,” he said.

But Mastin doesn’t think that’s possible under the current leadership. As long as King’s in charge, she said, her child won’t play for the Broncos.

“This program is too valuable as a whole to the town of Milton … to let it get blindsided or ruined,” Mastin said. “It needs the right people doing the right thing, even when no one’s watching.”

Read updates to the Independent’s investigation here.