Keelan: Uncommon service is a common virtue for soccer coach, state policeman

By Don Keelan

In the Nov. 4, 2022 Wall Street Journal, Jayson Gay detailed Miller Bugliari’s accomplishments: in a week or so, Coach Bugliari will have completed his 63rd year as Pingry School’s soccer coach in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. In the world of high school soccer, the coach is legendary.

Closer to home on Nov. 2, 2022, the Vermont Division IV Boys semifinal soccer match ended.   The boys from each team met at mid-field, gave each other the high-five, and moved on. Todd Wilkins, the Arlington Memorial High School long-time coach, and his associates followed their players. For Wilkins, his walk across the field was filled with mixed emotions. It was his last mid-field trek, ending 18 years as the AMHS head soccer coach.

Vermont State Police

Sgt. Todd Wilkins, Vermont State Police

In Arlington soccer, two names are synonymous: Coach John Werner and Todd Wilkins. The former was legendary in his own right, locally, state-wide, and nationally. When Wilkins was a student at AMHS, Werner was his coach, yet little did either of them know that Wilkins, locally known as Sergeant Wilkins of the Vermont State Police, would continue the Werner legacy for nearly two decades.

Vermont high school coaching is no easy task: the assignment begins months before the actual play commences; several days and evenings are blocked off each week for practice and games; and with Vermont’s school size and location, long-distance travel goes with the job.

All too often overlooked is the sacrifice of a coach’s family. Put another way, a coach’s commitment must be augmented by their family; otherwise, it does not happen. In Wilkins’ case, that commitment stretched almost twenty years.

If coaching were all that Todd Wilkins and his family gave to Arlington, that would be more than enough. But, it does not end with coaching. Todd has been a member of the Arlington School District’s board of directors for years and currently occupies that board’s chair position.

Anyone with any school connection is familiar with combating Covid-19 and the resulting issues of student attendance and teacher and administrative staffing. Under Wilkins’s leadership, the Arlington School District kept remote learning minimal during the Covid pandemic.

Arlington has always been home to the Wilkins family, including his spouse and three children. While serving as a coach, school board member, and Bennington County patrol commander with the VSP, Todd observed that the Town of Arlington needed to change to attract new businesses, families, and visitors. He knew he had to be on the Town’s governing board to help this occur. In 2020, he was elected overwhelmingly to Arlington’s Select Board.

Todd and his spouse Kerry have passed down the DNA of service. Later this month, their eldest son, a two-year veteran of the U.S.Air Force, will leave with his unit for an undisclosed location in the Mid-East.

Paraphrasing the late Fleet Admiral of WWII, Chester A. Nimitz (1885-1966), after he witnessed what occurred on Iwo Jima, an excellent way to describe the Wilkins family is, “where uncommon service is a common virtue.”

On Nov. 2, Todd Wilkins hung up his coaching whistle; however, scores of former players and their families are forever grateful for his leadership, compassion, and commitment. Also, a deep gratitude to the Wilkins family for giving Todd the opportunity to coach and serve the Town of Arlington.

For their sake, I hope Coach Wilkins will not re-evaluate his decision and return to coaching to eclipse Miller Bugliari’s 63 years and counting.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.

Image courtesy of Vermont State Police