Thursday, Feb. 15–6:00 p.m.:  Word came down late Thursday that Bruce Cunningham, the longtime coach of the Wilton High School varsity football team, had resigned as coach earlier in the day. Cunningham also works at the school as a physical education teacher and softball coach, but did not resign those positions.

News and shock spread through the Zeoli Field House where spectators were watching the junior varsity boys basketball team. A handful of parents of football players who were present expressed surprise and disappointment that Cunningham wouldn’t be continuing as the head of the football program.

Chris MacDougal, the school’s athletic director felt the same way.

“It’s unfortunate, I don’t want him to go. But he made a decision that it was time to go,” he says.

Unfortunately, the news came along with rumor and speculation, when local sports writer Dave Ruden tweeted that the resignation involved behind-the-scenes parent involvement–something WHS has been criticized for before.

According to my sources, Cunningham leaving is another parent-driven move in the town. Guaranteed he will be on another FCIAC staff very soon. #cthsfb

— Dave Ruden (@DaveRuden) February 15, 2018

Mixed reaction to that came from several places. Former WHS football player Steffen Nobles, who graduated in 2017, tweeted his reaction.

This is absolutely ridiculous, parents need to stop thinking their kids are prodigies… There are very few coaches who care as much about their players as Coach Cunningham does. Really disappointing.

— Steffen Nobles (@steffennobles) February 15, 2018

WHS Football Booster president Brian Colburn sent an email to Booster families which included a response he’d sent earlier to Ruden.

“While I understand the ‘angry parent’ narrative makes for a juicy headline, our Football Families simply could not have been much more supportive of this program. No athletic program can say everyone is 100% pleased 100% of the time. There are always areas to improve. However, our players, parents and alumni have been fully behind our program, and we are truly grateful for that support.”

Cunningham had been head coach for nine years, and went 13-7 over the last two seasons. In 2016, his fellow coaches voted him Coach of the Year.

MacDougal didn’t want to comment about any of the rumors, and instead wanted to focus on the relationship Cunningham had with his players.

“He did an awful lot of good for kids, an awful lot. The kids absolutely love him. He does so much more than just coach football,” MacDougal says.

One parent cited an example of Cunningham’s devotion to the program over self. After being named “NY Jets Coach of the Week” in 2016 in recognition of his “teaching of sound football fundamentals, motivation of young players to achieve, the promotion of youth football by way of dedication to his community, his school and his student-athletes,” Cunningham took the $2,000 prize that came with the award and used it to purchase special patriotic jerseys for the team to wear, rather than use it himself.

The resignation isn’t yet official as he hasn’t formally resigned in writing, but Cunningham did hold a meeting with the students at the end of the school day to tell his players personally.

MacDougal sent a message to the student athletes and their families about Cunningham’s resignation, attesting to the coach’s dedication to his players.

“Not only did he focus on coaching the game of football, he worked on building character, instilling sportsmanship and integrity in all his players. Bruce has inspired in his players loyalty and the belief that ‘team’ transcends individuals. As a direct result of his leadership and role-modeling, Bruce’s players entered the program as young freshmen, and they left four years later as respectful, altruistic young men who were prepared for the next chapter in their lives. Not only is Bruce a great coach, he’s an even better person. He will be sorely missed.”