The Vermont Principals’ Association instituted several updated policies last week affecting out-of-season coaching restrictions, and one change prevents varsity coaches from working with their own children on club teams.
“It used to be that if a high school coach was coaching a (club) team that had their son or daughter on the team, then it was OK,” VPA associate executive director Bob Johnson said. “And that was removed from the policy.”
In a small state with declining enrollment and limited athletic resources, some fall coaches are puzzled by the change. One skeptic is Rutland girls soccer coach Lori McClallen, who is a longtime staff member for Summit Football Club. McClallen’s two older daughters currently play for the Raiders, while her youngest daughter will compete for the middle school team. McClallen typically coaches younger teams for Summit FC and says the new change will hinder her ability to help future prospects in the Rutland region.
“Summit goes from U8 — a youth development academy that’s more like recreation — and we have competitive teams from U10 all the way to U19,” McClallen said. “So this limits where I could coach or help the program. We don’t have a lot of coaches to pull from in Vermont. And now you’re taking out the coaches who can coach, so it becomes a burden. And my bigger question is: Why? What is this rule trying to prevent?”
Scott Maxham coached boys soccer at West Rutland and several other schools for 22 years before retiring last season. His son Eric is Vermont’s all-time leading scorer, and will suit up for Castleton University this fall. Although Scott Maxham is looking forward to watching games as a parent, he is concerned that the VPA’s policy change may hurt the state’s smaller programs outside Chittenden County.
“Down in our area, a lot of the coaches have children on their team,” Maxham said. “Ron Henderson at Rutland coached his son for four years. Dick Williams at Otter Valley, his youngest son will be a sophomore. Chris Barton at Leland & Gray, his son is on his team. Todd Wilkins at Arlington, his son will be a senior and he’s one of their best players.
“And it’s not just guys who are coaching because their kids are on the team. Chris had been coaching 12 or 15 years before his son came through the program. If they’re not going to allow us to coach club soccer with our child on the team, you’re eliminating a lot of good coaches from that position. Just down in our area, that’s four schools with high-level coaches who have been coaching for a long time. Ron has been on the Twin State staff, and Todd was Small School Coach of the Year.”
Maxham pointed out that Division IV athletes often play three sports in order to help their school field full teams each season. West Rutland only has 31 boys enrolled in the high school, so restricting a parent from coaching his or her child at the club level could have a big impact.
“A lot of these coaches in the D-IV community, they coach everything and their kids play everything,” Maxham said. “So if they’re coaching for an Olympic Development Program, they can’t select their child because they can’t coach them. So they can’t play at the highest level that’s offered in the state of Vermont. It could open up a can of worms for the select competitions and All-Star competitions.”
The policy change will also have widespread implications for coaches in Central Vermont, where clubs like Capital Soccer have thrived recently. Steve Towne was a star soccer player at U-32 during the 1980s and he’s currently a staff member for Capital in addition to serving as the girls varsity coach for the Raiders. He has coached at U-32 for two decades, winning several titles with the boys team before switching back to the girls’ side. Towne is also the father of three children and has first-hand experience dealing with the VPA’s out-of-season coaching policies.
“When I was coaching the boys varsity here I also was coaching middle school kids with Capital, and there were never any issues,” Towne said. “But when my son Patrick was in eighth grade I got reprimanded because I didn’t know that (out-of-season) rule at the time. So I went to the girls Capital side to avoid that conflict. I tried to make it work so I was working with that rule, not against it. I sat down with Devin (Wendel) and then Hank (Van Orman) and we made it work. And a few years back I was given an ultimatum that I had to choose one or the other, and I switched over to the girls (varsity) side. Coaches have to pick and choose one side or the other — or certain age groups. Sometimes the boys varsity coach will coach the girls club, and visa versa. There is not a ton of coaches around to fill all these teams for clubs. Between Onion River, Dynamos, Capital, BASA — there are only so many coaches. It’s tough when you’re trying to get really good coaches in a small pool to cover these needs. And now that I’m coaching my kids, there’s more restrictions.”
Towne’s oldest daughter, Lauren, is a sophomore winger for the U-32 girls, so under the revised VPA policy, he will no longer be allowed to coach her on the Capital Soccer team. According to Towne, the new rule could restrict athletic development at rural schools that feed into the club programs while Division I programs keep getting stronger.
“Those club programs are important for us to be competitive against the Burlington region,” Towne said. “Right now, soccer is better than it’s ever been before. Growing up, we had good players, but not the number of good players. Now you watch Stowe play Harwood or U-32, and those are fun games to watch. There are good, technical players and the game itself has come a long ways. And with Capital, kids from U-32, Harwood, Montpelier and Stowe are all pooled together. It’s a good balance of kids from each of those programs — it’s not like one program is benefiting solely. It’s good for the kids in this area to have those programs. It’s just hard to limit who can coach them.”
Van Orman is the incoming president of the Vermont State Athletic Directors Association and he’s worked closely with U-32 coaches to make sure out-of-season rules are interpreted correctly. The U-32 AD has built a strong relationship with Towne and says that the new policy was not adopted to negatively impact parents who are also coaches.
“We weren’t trying to target any individuals from being around their kids. And coaches can still work with their children any time they want on a 1-on-1 basis,” Van Orman said. “... We have coaches who are absolutely outstanding. And those coaches need to talk to their athletic directors about how this impacts them. If we need to make adjustments, we can certainly do that.
“After this year, after taking a look at it and seeing it applied, we may make some changes. That’s where the communication from the coaches goes a long way. That’s what helps drive the ship. We have to work together.”