Beth Buglione stands on the 20 yard line of Nederland Middle-High’s football field Tuesday afternoon. It’s an overcast day at the school, which is tucked into the mountains roughly 15 miles west of Boulder. Buglione sinks into an athletic stance behind an overturned black trash bin holding a football.
“Readyyyy,” she yells in a low voice.
Opposite of her, the Nederland High School varsity football team settles into its base defense. There are three down linemen, three linebackers and two defensive backs. The Panthers are an eight-man team. Buglione makes them wait there for several seconds before issuing any sort of other verbal cue.
“Hike,” she finally yells.
All eight Panthers uncoil, failing to notice that the ball was never snapped. Buglione stops play to make a teaching point about jumping offsides.
“Guys, you’re going to hear me say this a lot,” Buglione, 52, says. “Be deaf on defense. Watch the ball. Don’t react to what the quarterback says.”
It’s the Panthers’ second day of practice. On Wednesday, they’ll put on pads for the first time.
Buglione, who was hired at Nederland this summer after 16 years of playing, coaching and officiating the game, is believed to be the first woman in Colorado history to become a varsity football coach. Buglione is happy to have that distinction. But what really gives her joy, she says, is that she has a new group of football players to work with and a game nine days away.
“Well, you guys aren’t going to have to worry about playing time this year,” she says to the group of nine players who made it to practice. “Hope you guys are in shape.”
Buglione caught the football bug when she was 4 years old.
That’s when she remembers watching her first Raiders game with her father. Football was a game simultaneously about brutality and strategy, which was what sucked her in.
“I played chess a little bit when I was younger,” Buglione says. “It’s really just physical chess.”
Buglione’s favorite players — Howie Long and Lyle Alzado — were hard-hitting defensive ends for the Raiders. She also admired the way the late Junior Seau played the game.
Buglione wanted to play football as kid, but she never got the chance to because that was just not something girls who grew up in Oregon did. Buglione stuck to volleyball and softball in high school.
Decades later, Buglione finally got her chance. In 2000, she stumbled upon a story in the sports section of the Corvallis Gazette-Times, the newspaper she was working for as a photographer at the time, that said a women’s football was forming in Corvallis, Oregon.
“It was like a four-inch story buried in the sports section,” Buglione says. “And I said, ‘What? Are you serious?’ I’ve been into football forever.”
Buglione, then 36, showed up to try-outs and told the team’s coach that she wanted to play quarterback.
“He asked, ‘Is that right?'” Buglione recalled. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty much right.'”
Buglione wound up playing quarterback for the Corvallis Pride for three seasons. They competed against other Independent Women’s Football League teams throughout the United States. The games were 11 vs. 11 and full tackle.
Following Buglione’s third season with the Pride, her head coach stepped down. The team needed someone to fill the vacancy. Buglione decided she would do it. She gave up playing in order to become the team’s coach, general manager and owner.
Putting a team together wasn’t easy. To drum up interest, Buglione plastered flyers at Oregon and Oregon State, advertised at local gyms and tried to recruit in person at women’s softball games.
“It was as grassroots as it could be,” Buglione said. “We practiced at parks. We didn’t have a field yet. We had to hand paint a field one time.”
In 2009, the Pride announced they were disbanding. Keeping the team together was not financially viable. Buglione says she’s still writing off losses from helping bankroll the team. Even so, Buglione considers the experience “one of the best times of my life.”
After the team dissolved, Buglione knew she wanted to continue coaching football.
She got a job working with middle school kids first, then moved up to coaching at the high school level. She also coached in a pay-to-play nine-man men’s league.
“I had spring and summer with them, and then fall was high school,” Buglione says. “So I had football year-round. It was just awesome.”
Buglione says she rarely ran into issues coaching a game that is overwhelmingly played by members of the opposite sex.
“Back in Oregon, it was like, ‘Oh, it’s Beth. She coaches football. Of course she’s here. Why wouldn’t she be here?’ I think it was just normal.”
Last year, Tim Bucknell and Buglione found themselves working together as assistants on the Sheridan High School varsity football team’s staff. Bucknell coached receivers. Buglione was responsible for bringing along the team’s quarterbacks.
Bucknell says he felt a twinge of uneasiness when he learned he’d be coaching alongside a woman. But that feeling dissipated after he saw how Buglione operated.
“To be honest, I was hesitant because of a female coach,” Bucknell says. “I’m an old-school guy. But day one, she turned that right around. She has a very positive attitude, and she came out without acting like she had a chip on her shoulder. She showed her knowledge of coaching, of football. We hit it off after that. I had instant respect.”
Bucknell has since moved on from Sheridan. He’s now a basketball coach at Lebanon High School. He and Buglione continue to communicate to this day, calling each other up to talk coaching.
“I would consider her one of my best friends in coaching circles,” he says. “It’s funny to me now hearing all this stuff about her being a female coach. After a week, she’s just coach.”
The Panthers’ first game is next week, and there is still much work to do.
Buglione, who took the Nederland job in June, is still searching for an assistant. She’s also hoping more students join the team when school ratchets back up this month. Right now, there are 13 names on her list. Only nine of those kids made it to practice Tuesday. A normal eight-man team’s roster is 16-20 players deep.
“It’s quiet here,” Buglione says as her team warms up. “You can hear the locusts. Wait until you hear the crows. It sounds like they’re laughing at us.”
Part of what brought Buglione to Colorado was the state’s natural beauty. Buglione is an avid nature photographer.
“I already know all the pull-outs in Rocky Mountain National Park,” she says with a laugh.
The chance to work with a new group of players enticed her, too.
At practice, Buglione is firm but not over the top. She’s not afraid to raise her voice when she feels like her players aren’t going full speed through the drills she’s drawn up for the day. But when one of her players is hunched over, sucking air after a conditioning drill, she encourages him to take time to catch his breath.
“Things are going great, says Ian Dunham, who plays offensive and defensive line. “It’s early, but I have great confidence in her.”
Dunham played at Nederland last season for Aaron Jones, who was let go in January after more than a decade at the school. Jones’ firing prompted backlash. An online petition to “Restore Coach Jones as NSMHM football coach in 2017” received 230 votes of support. In January, 50 students at Nederland Middle-High — or about 20 percent of the school’s enrollment — walked out of school to protest the firing.
“He was a good coach,” Dunham says. “They definitely have two different coaching styles. She’s more no-nonsense. Coach Jones coached more with passion. She’s more technique. Don’t get me wrong, coach Jones coached technique too. But they’re different.”
Dunham adds that it makes no difference to him that his new football coach is a woman.
“If she knows her stuff, she knows her stuff,” he says. “And I feel confident that she knows her stuff.”
Buglione admits she’s been a little “taken aback” by all the attention she’s received since taking over at Nederland. But she understands that it comes with the territory of being the first woman to become the head coach of a varsity football team in Colorado.
“Hopefully, it helps pave the way for other women to do this,” she says.
Buglione understands there’s a shift taking place in the game that she loves — even if it is occurring slowly. She points out that in the last three years, women have been hired as NFL referees and earned full-time coaching roles.
“It’s taking time, and it should,” she says. “You have to prove yourself. We haven’t been in the game as long as the guys have. But there are women who are ready for this. I consider myself one of them. I’m looking forward to when it’s just Nederland football. That’s the goal.”
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