Broncos look to dissolve tackle program

The Milton Broncos youth football program will ask the Milton Town School District to adopt its two tackle teams this fall, leaving just the youngest grade flag teams under its purview.

Such was the consensus of parents and leadership present at a team meeting last Thursday in the Milton Middle School cafeteria. If approved, the teams would convert from tackle to flag, a trend Broncos vice president Rodney Tinker said is inevitable as more parents worry about kids getting concussions from playing football.

“We can set the bar for the rest of the state,” he said.

Interim athletic director Trevor Wagar supports the idea and vowed to present it to the school board, ideally at the June 11 meeting.

The news comes at a time of turmoil for the Broncos, which has struggled to overcome a reputation of dysfunctional leadership in recent years.

The Broncos lost their 501c3 nonprofit status last year after team president, treasurer and coach Matt King failed to submit financial disclosures for three consecutive years, the Milton Independent reported last week. King wasn’t aware of the lapse until the Indy informed him this winter.

Parents attend a Milton Broncos team meeting last Thursday to discuss the future of the program. (Courtney Lamdin | Milton Independent)

King opened last week’s meeting by apologizing for his oversight. He told attendees the Internal Revenue Service renewed the 501c3 status that week, but the IRS’ online database didn’t reflect the change as of presstime Tuesday.

If the school board approves the proposal, the Broncos would only be left with flag teams for grades 1-4 and would still have to pay the $1,200 fee to the Northern Vermont Youth Football League. Tinker hoped to negotiate a reduced fee.

The Broncos will complete an equipment audit before the school board meeting to determine what is usable, though parents said the Broncos’ gear has been outdated for years.

King said the Broncos can sweeten the deal by donating up to $4,000 to help the school with upfront costs, to include equipment if needed.

Parents present were concerned a large donation could cripple the remaining flag teams. King assured them the program could cover it and then some, claiming the Broncos have $7,800 in the bank.

That’s $6,000 more than the Broncos had in December 2017, a month after the season ended and during a period with no expected revenue, bank statements obtained by the Independent show.

The Independent asked King, the only authorized party on the program’s People’s United Bank account, how the team made that much money in the off-season.

“There’s probably some checks that weren’t put in, I don’t know,” King said. “That’s what I’ve got. I’ve got a current bank statement.”

But King didn’t show it to anyone in attendance despite pledging to bring more transparency to the organization. Tinker asked King directly why the bank statements he shared were incomplete, and King mumbled an unintelligible response.

Milton Broncos founder and former coach Red Rock consider the impacts of dissolving the tackle team. (Courtney Lamdin | Milton Independent)

These unanswered questions are at the heart of why some parents have introduced bylaws that increase accountability and transparency.

The draft rules create a designated board treasurer, require a yearly financial report and authorize a second person on the Broncos’ bank account, among other rules. Team leadership tabled adopting the bylaws at last week’s meeting, preferring to see how the school board votes on its proposal first.

Also delayed were elections to serve on the Broncos board. Parent Dan St. Hilaire, who helped draft the bylaws, said there weren’t enough parents in attendance for a formal vote and suggested the election take place at the next meeting, June 19.

Instead, most of the meeting centered on the pros and cons of switching from tackle to flag and on the perceived benefits of the school district taking ownership.

St. Hilaire pitched the idea to boost the roster. As it stands, the team barely has enough players to field a 7/8 team.

Under the Broncos’ proposal, the new teams would play under Vermont Principals Association rules for middle school sports. Wagar said there are enough flag teams in the region to play, including Burlington, U-32, Otter Valley and others. His proposal will include costs for coaching stipends and transportation, he said.

“This makes sense. For safety, for the community, for the sport, for everybody,” Wagar said. “It just makes too much sense.”

Milton Yellowjackets varsity coach Jim Provost urged the Broncos to capitalize on the momentum from the high school team’s success last season and was pleased to hear incoming AD Andrew Flaherty is on board.

Provost said parents need to be ambassadors for youth football. Parent Erin Rock-Ballard agreed, saying the program’s bylaws should include a volunteerism and fundraising requirement. King has blamed many of the Broncos’ problems on the lack of parent help.

Broncos parent Melissa Reen said parents have tried to take the burden off King.

“You’re on the board one day, you’re not on the next,” she said. “You have parents that volunteer and show up and then they drop out. It just hasn’t been anything that’s been set in stone, organized.”

King said he’s done his best, a statement backed by Red Rock, a Broncos founder and former coach for nearly two decades.

“Now I’m finally facing the fact we need to move on,” King said. “I need help, and this is where we are.”

Coach Rock’s wife, Cindy, agreed.

“If we don’t adapt and adjust, this program is toast,” she said.

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