A joint statement released on Monday by Valley Regional High football coach Tim King and Superintendent Brian White announced that the school district was withdrawing its request for King to resign.
“We both understand and accept that as educators and professionals we have a special responsibility to our students, staff and community during a pandemic and that we must place safety above all else. It is in this spirit that the request for Coach King to resign from the position of head football coach has been rescinded,” read the statement.
Community members have been in an uproar since White requested King’s resignation last week after he allegedly coached a group of Valley Regional High School and Lyme-Old Lyme High School students participating in an independent football league. The league was formed after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference cancelled its 11-on-11 football season on September 13.
Jack Cox, a senior on the Valley Regional High School football team, started a petition calling for the board to rescind its request. As of today, the petition had gained 2,876 signatures.
“Through discussion, we have come to an understanding about the extent of the coach’s involvement in an independent team of Region 4 football players. Coach King does understand as a role model, the concerns about community perception regarding his involvement with this team,” the statement read.
The statement did not clarify what the extent of the coach’s involvement was, a question that has caused a great deal of confusion.
Mark Seims, one of the founders of the Connecticut High School Independent Football League, said he had never seen King at any games and had never spoken to him.
“He, as far as I know, has nothing to do with the league,” said Seims.
The Connecticut High School Independent Football League was formed by Seims, then the general manager of the semi-pro Connecticut Brawlers, and Dan Lacasky, the owner of the semi-pro team CT Fire.
Seims said that after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference cancelled its football season in September, he began posting on a private Facebook page Let Them Play CT, and that people began reaching out to him about forming a league.
The league eventually included 17 teams and over 500 players who came from every county except Fairfield, which had its own league.
Responses from school boards were not consistent. Some school boards actively supported the teams. Coaches Kevin Frederick of Maloney and Jason Bruenn of Platt both said that without the support of the Meriden Board of Education and the superintendent, they wouldn’t have been able to join the league, since the kids would not have been able to afford the necessary equipment for training. Additionally, they received the support of the Town Manager in Meriden, who allowed the teams to use the field.
Maloney and Bruenn added, however, that six or seven teams nearby were unable to join the league, either because athletic directors at their schools forbade the coaches to participate on the peril of losing their jobs, or because the town manager would not allow them to use a field.
Seims said that the teams had received emails from the conference assuring coaches that they would not be penalized for their involvement in the independent league.
Glenn Lungarini, executive director of CIAC, said in a statement that while the organization had allowed its member coaches to coach out of season, “it was made clear to our member schools that the intent of waiving the out of season rule was not to permit coaching 11v11 high risk football activities.”
“This past fall, CIAC member schools successfully ran low to moderate risk football experiences that were endorsed by our association and aligned with CT [Department of Public Health]’s recommendations to postpone 11 v 11 high risk full contact football to later in the school year, and to consider low to moderate risk alternative activities,” Lungarini said in a statement to Connecticut Examiner.
According to Siems, the league played a total of 50 games before the governor’s moratorium on all sports gatherings forced the league to disband. He said the teams took precautions during the season — players were required to wear gaiters and lower face shields while playing, they could not share water bottles, and there were limits set on how many people could be in the locker rooms at once.
According to Siems and other coaches, there were no new cases directly connected to games, although there were teams that had to quarantine because a player had become infected, presumably due to community spread.
Bruenn said he approved of King’s actions. He said that, for a player, losing a season could put them in danger when the next season approached, when they would be expected to take a more intense position on the team without the necessary training. It was critical, therefore, to keep the kids in shape and let them play.
“He’s trying to provide those kids, in that program, a leg up — so they’re not behind,” he said.
He also said he saw King as a person of integrity.
“I don’t even know how many nice words you can say about him. Between the way he treats his kids, the way he treats his coaches … he runs a respectable program. I would want my kid to play for him,” said Bruenn.
Siems said he didn’t consider the league to be finished, just on pause. He said they were considering forming a four-year football program, so the kids could train year-round.
Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that, as a personnel matter, the superintendent (not the board of education) requested the resignation of King.