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Bisons keep it all in the family

Kids of U of M sports figures making marks with Herd

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The families that Herd together... From left: volleyball coach Garth Pischke with daughter Taylor, athletic director Coleen Dufresne with son Nick Stewner, football coach Brian Dobie with daughter Caleigh and sprint coach Alex Gardiner with daughter Blair.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The families that Herd together... From left: volleyball coach Garth Pischke with daughter Taylor, athletic director Coleen Dufresne with son Nick Stewner, football coach Brian Dobie with daughter Caleigh and sprint coach Alex Gardiner with daughter Blair. Photo Store

In the familial circles of Canadian college sports, this season's University of Manitoba Bisons are keeping it all in the family even more than most.

You see, for the first time in Herd history, five key U of M sports staffers have a kid competing in Bisons colours. Four coaches and the university's athletic director are doing double-duty as both cheering parent and athletic organizer. That's a quirky situation, maybe unique in the CIS, though athletic director Coleen Dufresne mused it was bound to happen, as coaches' careers at the U of M stretched over the years.

'To be able to watch your kid on campus, representing where you work, and where you take pride... you're just proud. It's very surrealistic at times'

-- football coach Brian Dobie on daugther Caleigh's position on the volleyball team

"We have one of the best programs in the country, so why go elsewhere?" said Dufresne, whose son Nick Stewner is a volleyball rookie this year.

In that way, it seems natural that so many coaches' kids would decide to stay and play. Among the group is third-year volleyball hitter Taylor Pischke, whose father Garth has coached the men's side for 32 years. On the track and field team, head coach Claude Berube's daughter Marie-Andree Berube is starting her rookie year as a sprinter, while sprint coach Alex Gardiner's daughter Blair Gardiner will run her first year of middle distance.

Then there is longtime football head coach Brian Dobie, whose daughter Caleigh Dobie is in her second year playing libero for the women's volleyball team. Just last week, after wiping the stress of the Bisons Canada West final loss to the Calgary Dinos off his brow, Dobie turned on his iPhone to watch Caleigh and her squad trounce the visiting Saskatchewan Huskies at home. It took some the sting out of the football loss, for sure.

"I started this job when she was a baby," Dobie mused. "She always wanted to be a Bison, ever since she was just a little rugrat. To be able to watch your kid on campus, representing where you work, and where you take pride... you're just proud. It's very surrealistic at times."

It was a curious moment though, when women's volleyball coach Kent Bentley came knocking on the Dobies' door. Because of his position at the school, because Bentley was a colleague, Brian Dobie had to stay arm's length away from the process. He knew his daughter might have options, and that the Bisons were interested. But when Bentley called and asked to meet with the family, the standard parental nerves kicked in.

"Jackie and I were far more nervous and excited I think than Caleigh was," he laughed -- and truth be told, when Bentley offered his daughter a place, he cried. For Caleigh Dobie, whose memories were all tied up with Bisons sports, it was an easy thing to say yes. She was in the stands at the Vanier Cup in 2007 when the Bisons won it all; she grew up around campus, cheering her dad's teams on -- and feeling the ebb and flow of victories and defeats. "It's always been a family atmosphere for me," she said. "It's been a long time, it's become me and my mom's life pretty outside of our own. We deal with it as a family."

Still, with so many teen Bison scions at that age where the world starts spanning out beyond the nest, wasn't there some curiosity about going away for school, to live and play in a different place? "Not really," Nick Stewner said with a grin. "My mom makes some pretty good home cookin', so it's really not that hard to stay home, and spend time with the family."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2013 C4

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