The winners of this year’s Coaching Manitoba Excellence Awards all have one thing in common: none of them like getting attention for their work, much less being handed awards as recognition.
Take Garden City Collegiate basketball coach Phil Penner, the winner of the school system category. Penner, who recently led the Fighting Gophers to a fourth provincial championship in the last seven years, said it was humbling to be recognized.
"A lot of pretty impressive people have won that award," said Penner, who has coached at Garden City for 16 years. "It’s really not about one person. It’s especially about the players. I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great athletes with great character who are willing to work as hard as they do to be successful."
Penner recalled coming out to the gym to watch his future wife, Missy, coach volleyball, and having her ask him to help out with the school’s basketball team.
"To be honest, I didn’t know a heck of a lot about what I was doing at the start," said Penner. "Going from a player to a coach is different. And you look a lot smarter when you’ve got great players."
While Penner places plenty of importance on basketball with his players, he also wants them to leave Garden City with better life skills that will serve them well as students, in their future careers and as husbands and fathers, he said.
Those thoughts were echoed by Jaret Ditter, the winner in the learn to train/train to train category. The soccer coach from River Park South went to great pains not to tell anyone that he was nominated.
"It was hard for me to end up sharing the information with some people," said Ditter, who coaches an under-12 Bonivital Flames girls’ team, and helped lead a Winnipeg team to last year’s Manitoba Summer Games. "I don’t like to boast or be flamboyant."
When Ditter was announced as the winner at the awards breakfast on April 7, he was so surprised he sat at his table thinking, "is that me?"
For Ditter, wins and losses are secondary to player development.
"It’s always very rewarding for me as a coach to have players or their parents come up to me at the end of the year and say they improved so much," Ditter said.
The winner in the train to compete/train to win category was University of Manitoba men’s volleyball coach Garth Pischke, who’s no stranger to awards.
"I’m very proud to have lived most of my life here in Manitoba, and anytime you get recognized by the people in your home province it’s a great thing," said the Fort Richmond resident, who just finished his 32nd year coaching the Bisons.
Becoming a coach wasn’t always the plan for the former Olympian and professional volleyball player. Pischke got his degree in accounting and finance, but was asked while still a student if he’d be interested in coaching part time.
"(A career in finance) certainly would have been a lot more lucrative," he said, "but I can’t complain at all. I think at this point in time I’ve got the greatest job around."