Nederland’s Beth Buglione, the first female head football coach in Colorado high school history, ready to wade through adversity this fall

NEDERLAND — With the first official padded practice of the 2017 football season about to begin, Nederland’s Beth Buglione called her nine players over to take a knee around her.

“Remember what we’re trying to accomplish here,” said Buglione, the first female head coach in Colorado high school football history. “This isn’t about me. It’s about this team and this community. This is about getting this program to where it should be.”

She’s confused about why her hiring drew such attention.

“I come out here and people have lost their minds — it’s crazy to me because I’m just a football coach, so what’s the big deal?” said Buglione, who lives in Firestone with her partner. “But I get that a woman football coach is an anomaly, so I’ve learned to embrace that and just make sure that all the attention I receive funnels back to the kids.”

Buglione, 52, a professional photographer by trade, moved from Portland, Ore., swapping the state where she lived nearly her entire life for a small Colorado mountain town in the hopes of rebuilding an eight-man football program.

“There’s no lights at our field, and I only have one assistant coach, and I know in eight-man you have a limited number of players and you’ve got to work with what you’ve got,” Buglione said. “I came in ready for all of that.”

But Buglione’s inaugural season with Nederland is in danger of derailing before the team makes it on the field. The Panthers had to forfeit their first scheduled game, at home Friday against Hayden, because they didn’t have enough players who hit the nine-practice minimum despite having 14 players on the official roster.

It’s the latest adversity for the new coach of a program emerging from the turmoil of a popular coach being fired after last season and is ineligible for the playoffs because it’s classified as an independent. Because of that independent classification, the team has to travel long distances to find opponents. Scheduled road opponents include Kremmling (a five-hour round trip), Marcos (14 hours) and Del Norte (nine hours).

But Buglione’s biggest immediate challenge is boosting the number of players to ensure games will be played. With the passion she has for football, she believes she will get that done.

She caught the football bug after seeing a newspaper story about Corvallis Pride tryouts in 2000. She went, made the team and got hooked.

In addition to past assistant coaching jobs at Philomath and Sheridan high schools in Oregon, Buglione played for, coached and eventually owned the Pride, a now-defunct semi-pro team in the Independent Women’s Football League. She also has coached youth, middle school and adult recreational football and even refereed for a season.

Her handful of players have bought in, as Buglione’s football IQ was quickly apparent to her team at a school with an enrollment of 143.

“It didn’t take long from the very first time we met her to set aside any questions I had, because she’s just so good with the X’s and O’s,” junior quarterback Damon Vigil said. “I tell every kid in the hallway who is thinking about playing — ‘It doesn’t matter if she’s a woman. She’s the best coach for our program right now.’ ”

Beth Buglione holds practice at Nederland ...

Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

Beth Buglione holds practice at Nederland High School on Aug. 16, 2017 in Nederland.

Culture change amid adversity

Nederland needs a minimum of eight players to compete every week, but between eligibility and some players’ other athletic commitments — a couple of the Panthers have scheduling conflicts because of competitive hockey — getting an adequate amount of guys to practice every day has proven difficult.

Beyond the roster issue — while setting up four trash cans that act as the scout team’s defensive line, Buglione noted she will have one substitute “on a good day” — she inherited a program in disarray after the contentious firing of Aaron Jones, who coached the Panthers for 11 seasons.

Jones’ dismissal last December sparked a backlash from his supporters, including town hall meetings, a student walk-out during school and even a Change.Org petition to get him reinstated after last season’s 5-3 record as an independent.

“There was a ton of drama — meetings to try to get him back, accusations against the old athletic director,” Vigil said. “The district wouldn’t say why they let him go, and even as players the whole situation was unclear to us. But I wouldn’t say there’s lingering bad feelings about it, because as players we have to put it behind us now to try to focus on winning…

“It’s a whole new athletic program, with pretty much new staff around every single sport and a new AD, so there’s a renewed positive feeling to this team.”

Adding to that positive feeling is the school applying to be reinstated in a league for the next two-year RPI cycle of 2018-20, so next season’s playoffs are the underclassmen-laden team’s big-picture goal.

“We have a chance to get this team into condition before we have to go into league play next year,” Buglione said. “This gives us a whole year to get the program right and for me to instill the necessary work ethic.”

Through it all, the few players Buglione has keep coming back, eager to throw their weight behind the new coach.

“Beth is a coach who embraces every challenge she faces,” said Nederland athletic director Rick Elertson. “She knows we’re in a tough spot in a lot of ways, and manages to get these players to see the other side of it.”

Eyeing future football glory

There were nearly 40 applicants for the Nederland head coaching job, but Buglione’s resume stood out along with two other finalists when a committee of parents, students, teachers and coaches forwarded their final recommendations to principal Carrie Yantzer.

“The hire was solely based on the best person for the job, because when we saw that she’s played, refed, coached and owned a team, that sealed the deal,” Yanzter said. “We weren’t expecting our next coach to be female, it just happened she was and that she’s bringing a new excitement and energy for these boys.”

Problem is, the team needs players. While there is still some skepticism in the Nederland hallways among would-be players, the team’s returning core of six to eight sees beyond preconceived notions.

“Gender does not matter at all, and the guys who are on the roster realize that,” Vigil said.

They have immersed themselves in Buglione’s system.

“The biggest thing is her coming in and changing the climate,” said assistant coach Chuck Doudna. “She’s tightening up those loose ends, and ingraining the sense of what it takes to be a winning program into the kids.”

Buglione isn’t satisfied with simply being known as someone who broke a stereotype. She came to Nederland with league and state titles in mind, but is realistic about the work it will take to get there.

“Five years from now, I want to be winning championships,” Buglione said. “And for now, I want to get people excited about the program, and hopefully I can spark that as we continue to put in the hard work while no one’s watching, every single day throughout this season and into the next.”