From grassroots to the highest levels of international competition, four of Manitoba’s best coaches were honoured last week.
Coaching Manitoba Excellence Awards were presented to Brigitte Smutny, Andy Tough, Bill Johnson and Don Thomson at a breakfast on April 15.
Smutny, the head coach of Sail Manitoba, received the Vince Leah Memorial Award for her work at the grassroots level. Although she also works with the province’s elite athletes, the St. James resident was recognized primarily for her attention to building a grassroots program for disabled sailors.
"It was a surprise," Smutny said. "I thought it was great to get recognized for all the hard work you put in."
Smutny coached sailing in Germany for 20 years before moving to Canada in 1997 and continuing to work with athletes. She has also been instrumental in making sailing a regular part of the Manitoba Games.
"I need to get 32 athletes for the various regions and 16 coaches and managers," she said. "That’s a large number for us. I’m always scouting around, asking kids if they’re interested."
Tough, a Fort Garry resident who started coaching as soon as he finished high school in 1984, received the Dr. Jack Hunt Memorial Award for his work with developmental track and field athletes.
Along with coaching the Vincent Massey Collegiate track team, Tough established his own club, Stride Ahead Tough Track, nine years ago. Four of the athletes he’s training will be competing at the post-secondary level in the U.S. or Canada in the fall. But Tough doesn’t merely measure his success on that basis.
"Each athlete has their own individual goals," he said. "For instance, one of the kids in our program said his goal was to work on his speed and make a AAA baseball team. He just told me he made the team."
Tough said he was honoured enough just to be nominated along with some elite company. Winning with his wife and 2 1/2-year-old daughter at the ceremony was a bonus.
Tough and his co-coach Sue Zajac work with kids as early as Grade 4 at Whyte Ridge Elementary School.
"We go over the fundamentals, do technique drills, and motivate them to run," he said. "We work a lot on their speed, which is essential at a young age."
Johnson, who lives in Wolseley, received the Peter Williamson Memorial Award for high performance coaching.
Johnson is the coach of the national women’s wheelchair basketball team. He wasn’t able to receive his award in person because he was with the team in the Netherlands and Germany last week.
Canada is hoping to reach the podium in London at the 2012 Paralympics.
Thomson, a Brandon resident, was given the Peter Dick Award for school-system coaching. The long-time basketball coach led the Manitoba boys and girls at the 2005 Canada Summer Games.