Many Upper Valley schools rely on player parents to fill out the coaching ranks

Hartford's Brayden Trombly runs through a footwork drill with other quarterbacks at the first practice for  7-on-7 football in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 8, 2020 as coach Matt Trombly watches. At left is returning starter Cole Jasmin. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Hartford's Brayden Trombly runs through a footwork drill with other quarterbacks at the first practice for 7-on-7 football in White River Junction, Vt., on Sept. 8, 2020 as coach Matt Trombly watches. At left is returning starter Cole Jasmin. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Geoff Hansen

Eiea Morgan, of Thetford, rounds third and heads toward home as her mother, Head Coach Michelle Morgan, left, waves the next runner on during their 19-18 win over Spaulding in Thetford, Vt., on Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Eiea Morgan, of Thetford, rounds third and heads toward home as her mother, Head Coach Michelle Morgan, left, waves the next runner on during their 19-18 win over Spaulding in Thetford, Vt., on Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Mascoma baseball coach Britt Lewis teases his son Ethan Lewis about getting a haircut before the start of their game in West Canaan, N.H., on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Mascoma baseball coach Britt Lewis teases his son Ethan Lewis about getting a haircut before the start of their game in West Canaan, N.H., on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Jennifer Hauck

Woodstock varsity softball head coach Angela Allard fills out her score sheet as she coaches third base during a game against Mill River Union High School at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt., on Friday, April 22, 2022. Woodstock won, 19-7. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Woodstock varsity softball head coach Angela Allard fills out her score sheet as she coaches third base during a game against Mill River Union High School at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt., on Friday, April 22, 2022. Woodstock won, 19-7. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Oxbow head coach Chuck Simmons encourages support from the crowd as Alexa Kosakowski warms up in the bottom of the fourth inning in their VPA Division III state championship game against Vergennes in Castleton, Vt., on June 11, 2022. Trailing 3-2 entering the inning, the Olympians had a six-hit, seven-run inning and stayed ahead to win the game, 13-3. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Oxbow head coach Chuck Simmons encourages support from the crowd as Alexa Kosakowski warms up in the bottom of the fourth inning in their VPA Division III state championship game against Vergennes in Castleton, Vt., on June 11, 2022. Trailing 3-2 entering the inning, the Olympians had a six-hit, seven-run inning and stayed ahead to win the game, 13-3. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News file photograph — Geoff Hansen

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-21-2023 3:03 AM

Entering the 2021 season, the Hartford High football team had quite the competition on its hands for the starting quarterback spot.

Senior Colin Vielleux, who had spent the previous fall as the backup to the since-graduated Cole Jasmin in the seven-on-seven campaign in 2020, was thought to be the favorite to win the job. But sophomore Brayden Trombly, the oldest son of head coach Matt Trombly, was after the spot as well. After two weeks of evaluation during the preseason, Matt Trombly and his staff handed the role to Brayden.

“A lot of people thought, ‘Well, (Vielleux) is a senior, he should be the starting kid,’ ” Matt Trombly said. “Really, it doesn’t work that way at our level, in (Vermont) Division I. We need our best kids on the field. It was a unanimous decision that Brayden had earned the right to take the starting role. At that point, I went to our captains and had a discussion with them, and every one of our captains was 100% on board.”

The Hurricanes’ decision was questioned before the season opener, but Brayden Trombly wasted no time proving his father correct. His first pass at the varsity level went for a touchdown, and Hartford went on to defeat St. Johnsbury, 41-9. The Canes run the wing-T offense and don’t throw the ball much, but Trombly still passed for 767 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight regular-season games as Hartford finished 6-2 before falling by one point to CVU in the VPA Division I semifinals.

Vielleux, for his part, handled the situation well — he still started at linebacker that season and remains good friends with Brayden. He said he expected to be thestarter going into the preseason but was grateful to be able to focus exclusively on defense and holds no hard feelings toward any of the coaches.

“There were a lot of people who told me throughout the preseason, ‘If you end up getting this, it’s only because your dad is the coach,’ ” Brayden Trombly said. “But I went out and I thought I gave us the best chance to win, and that’s what the coaching staff saw, too. I don’t think there was any favoritism involved in that. I was able to go out and give our team a chance to win every week.”

A hard line to walk

Matt Trombly may have made the right decision, and he may have been appropriately confident in his son, but he faced an extreme version of a challenge all parent coaches deal with. To avoid the appearance of showing favoritism toward their own child, many end up — advertently or not — being tougher on their sons and daughters compared to their teammates. At least 13 Upper Valley high school varsity teams in the 2022-23 academic year were led by a head coach who had a son or daughter on the roster.

Britt Lewis has coached each of his four children in some combination of baseball, football, soccer and softball. He and his family recently moved from a small town in northeast Texas to Enfield. After the Mascoma High baseball coach was fired as midway through the 2022 season, Lewis helped at practices and games for the rest of the spring, then became the head coach the following year.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Hartford parts with state champion girls hockey coach
Kenyon: By charging for after school program, CCBA loses sight of its mission
Upper Valley Memorial Day ceremonies 2024
Police: Vermont man arrested for stealing gas in Newport to refuel stolen vehicle
Upper Valley Memorial Day ceremonies 2024
Dozens of layoffs at former Vermont Teddy Bear distribution center due to start Thursday

Also an assistant football coach for the Royals, Lewis coaches his son Ethan, a rising junior at Mascoma, in both sports. He said he finds it difficult to treat Ethan the same way he does the rest of the team and tends to hold him to higher standards.

“Especially at the varsity level, I do struggle with that,” Lewis said. “Everybody knows that one dad (where) the dad’s friends and their kids are the ones who end up playing more than everybody else. I’m way harder on my kids than I should be. You expect so much out of them, and I couldn’t be more proud of all of them. Fortunately, I’ve got my wife there to rein me in and tell me I need to ease up.”

Lewis contrasted his experience in New Hampshire to what he had been used to in Texas, where high school coaches were almost always teachers or other school employees. In the Upper Valley, coaches are essentially volunteering their time and receive just a small stipend from their respective schools.

Such is the case for Windsor High girls basketball coach Kabray Rockwood, who established The Rockwood Agency in 2009 to help people with their taxes, insurance and retirement planning. While he only took over as varsity coach of the Yellowjackets in 2020, Rockwood began helping build Windsor into the powerhouse program it is today long before. Rockwood is the president and coaching director for the Windsor-based Comets Basketball Club, which has become a proving ground for the Yellowjackets and other area schools.

His oldest daughter, Olivia, starred at Windsor under previous head coach Bruce Mackay and is now playing NCAA Division I basketball at the University of Maine. Sophia Rockwood, a rising junior at Windsor, has helped the Yellowjackets win state titles in each of her first two seasons. And the Rockwood dynasty may still reign after Sophia graduates; Kabray’s youngest daughter, Amelia, will be an eighth grader this fall.

“When I was younger, I was a lot harder on my daughters than I am now,” Rockwood said. “It’s not necessarily how you’re treating your own child that everybody’s looking at; it’s how are you treating them in relation to everybody else. What are they getting away with that nobody else is, or what are they getting called out for that nobody else is?”

Perhaps Angela Allard, who has coached softball at Woodstock High the last two years, is the exception that proves the rule. Allard and her two daughters moved to Woodstock from Randolph in 2021 so that Angela could be closer to her partner. Her firstborn, Jordan, was adamant that she take the job.

Jordan Allard graduated this year, but her younger sister Cameron has three more years at Woodstock, so Angela said she plans to stick around for at least that long.

“It’s easy to go home and talk to her about the game and think about things I need to change,” Jordan said. “It’s helpful because she’s obviously always there. She is definitely harder on me than a normal coach would be, but I enjoy that. I like getting pushed.”

Multiple hats at home

The Allards, like many families of parent coaches, find it hard to leave their sport at the field. Angela said she and her daughters often talk about their team and recent games at home, but if one of them had a rough game, she will take off her coach hat and give them “that more encouraging, loving, motherly side” of her. The only time her coach hat comes off on the field, though, is if somebody gets hurt — and that goes for all her players.

Allard was one of just four mothers leading varsity teams in the Upper Valley last year, along with Thetford softball’s Michelle Morgan, Thetford girls basketball’s Jolene Cadwell and White River Valley girls soccer’s Kim Prestridge.

“I would love to see more moms out there coaching when they’re comfortable with it,” Allard said. “It’s a level of comfort for girls’ teams to have a woman there to talk to.”

Lewis said he frequently talks with his son about their games at the dinner table and on the living room couch, especially during football season, when they typically watch film at home the day after games. He said he gives Ethan “a little more tough love” than another coach would but added that Mascoma head football coach John Daley saw a fit for him at tight end. In Texas, he had always played defensive end and linebacker.

“When we’re at home and we’re going over stuff, it’s more of an approach of a dad,” Lewis said. “I do care about his well-being. If it’s hurting, don’t do that anymore, let’s do something else. But at the same time, it’s football; it’s going to hurt, son. They’re going to hit you.”

With the Rockwoods’ first child playing nearly a five-hour drive from their Windsor home, the family spends a lot of time on the road in an effort to attend as many of Olivia’s games as possible. Thus, the car, rather than the kitchen table, is Kabray’s space to discuss the game with Sophia, who averaged 15.5 points per game as a sophomore last winter.

Rockwood called those conversations “very cerebral.”

“For them, it’s a challenge in its own right because they are the coach’s kids,” Rockwood said. “Therefore, a lot of people are thinking that they’re getting either an unfair advantage or there’s a perception that they’re getting called out for things that they shouldn’t be called out for. So having that relationship be strong outside the court allows for some grace on it.”

After the kids are through

White River Valley athletic director Tim Perreault coached his daughter, Ella, in basketball, taking over that program following the school’s formation out of the merger of South Royalton and Whitcomb. But Ella graduated this spring and will play basketball and lacrosse at Bard College, so her father stepped aside to preserve the ability to attend more of her games.

But some coaches remain even after their kids have come through their programs. Longtime Stevens High field hockey coach Patty Deschaine’s youngest daughter, Jenna, graduated in 2014, then played at her mother’s alma mater, St. Michael’s College. But Deschaine stayed at Stevens for nine more years before stepping away at the end of the 2022 season.

DJ Craven may be around for a while at White River Valley. An assistant with the Wildcats’ boys basketball team under Mike Gaudette while his oldest son, Dominic, was leading WRV in scoring, Craven became the head coach last year after Gaudette left for the job at Hartford. His middle son, Donovan, will be a junior this year, and his youngest, Cam, is still in elementary school.

“Sometimes I find I get a little tougher on my son than I do others,” Craven said. “But then I find, overall, I’m just as tough on everybody. We have basketball discussions at home, and that’s the hard line. When we go home, (Donovan) still wants to talk basketball, and with his dad, not so much his coach. Sometimes it’s hard to separate those two when he’s talking about what direction he wants things to go.”

A family affair

Since he took over Oxbow High softball in 2021, Chuck Simmons has made what was already one of the best programs in Vermont even more dominant, winning Division III state titles in each of his first three campaigns.

His daughter Makenna, who graduated in the spring, started behind the plate, but his stepdaughter, Hadlee Allen, will patrol center field for the Olympians for one more spring.

But Simmons was also just named head coach of Oxbow boys soccer, where at least this fall, he will not have a kid on the team. He has a son in eighth grade who plays soccer, but Simmons said he is looking forward to just being a coach without the additional role of parent.

“I hope parents see that I’m just as competitive with coaching my kids in softball as I’m going to be when I coach varsity soccer,” Simmons said. “I’m going to get the best I can out of each kid and hopefully win games, and they learn life lessons from it.”

Brayden Trombly is now entering his third and final season as Hartford’s starting quarterback, but his family’s time with the Hurricane program is just getting started. The Tromblys have two younger sons who both play as well, and the youngest, a rising third grader, will play tackle football for the first time this year.

“As a family, we’ve always been involved in sports, and all of our kids are excited to play,” Matt Trombly said. “They’ve been around Hartford football since they were born. My wife always came to the games, pushing them in the stroller, so they’ve been a part of it since the beginning. Now it’s just part of who we are, part of our culture, and it’s a family thing. It’s pretty cool.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.