Leadership at the highest level

Bisons athletic director embraces challenge, claims post on FISU executive committee


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Some will see it as validation of her leadership at the University of Manitoba.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2015 (2686 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Some will see it as validation of her leadership at the University of Manitoba.

Coleen Dufresne, however, views her election to the executive committee of the International University Sports Federation (know by its French acronym FISU) — the 170-nation body that oversees the major competitions of university sport — as just another means to her end game.

“I’ve always wanted things to be better and it’s always been my goal to do what I could to help build things,” Dufresne said Wednesday in her athletic director’s office on the U of M campus. “Ultimately, we want the experience for the student athlete to be the best it can be. That’s what we’re all here for.”

In charge of Bisons athletics since 2001 — promoted after a celebrated career as a basketball player and coach — Dufresne successfully navigated the process to the FISU post, and was elected as an assessor at the Nov. 8 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.

She joins the group of 23 members as one of 15 assessors after a concentrated push by Canadian Interuniversity Sport to seek a place at the international table.

Dufresne’s journey has been a rich one, from Olympic athlete to coaching three CIS basketball championship teams and being three times named CIS coach of the year. Her 17 years of coaching also included international competitions, among them the world championships and Pan American Games.

Those experiences impacted her life, Dufresne said, but she’s just as passionate about the change and progress she has overseen as the Bisons’ AD.

“We’ve grown significantly,” Dufresne said proudly. “We didn’t have Junior Bison programs, which in the last five years have grown incredibly. We didn’t have full-time strength-and-conditioning coaches. We have that now.

“Full-time assistant coaches, we have a few, and it’s a big goal to increase that. And scholarships, well, we have increased the funding there and credit goes to the coaches and the work they do in that area.”

There have also been some major renovations and additions to the landscape that surrounds Dufresne and Bisons athletes, including the construction of Investors Group Field and the new Active Living Centre on campus.

“And really (Investors Group Athletic Centre), which seems older, but it’s not,” Dufresne said. “When I coached, we were in Bison East, which was the airplane hangar from the war.

“Things have sure changed.”

Performance highlights have also been plentiful and those are the proud, fun days of the job, Dufresne said.

“National championships for sure, like our football team winning the Vanier Cup (2007) and the women’s volleyball team winning nationals (2014), and any time there are individual awards that athletes win, like players of the year, or coaches for coach of the year, it doesn’t get any better,” she said. “Those kinds of things show we’re doing some things right.

“And I think the fact our student athletes continue to be among the top of academic all-Canadians is a credit to them, and I’m proud of that because it says we do focus on the student side of student athlete as well. Sometimes that gets lost.”

Of course, the job is not a seven-day-a-week pep rally.

Funding challenges are ongoing and seemingly permanent as the department continues to try to find ways to enhance the Bisons athletic experience with more staff and better programs.

Dufresne has also endured the occasional crisis, including a particularly disappointing 2009 episode in which the football team was stripped of wins and denied a playoff spot over the use of an ineligible player.

“It was a difficult time,” Dufresne said. “I take losses hard. I empathize with our teams and athletes when they lose. When seasons end for players, that’s hard.

“I struggle to say what the toughest day has been, but I guess that was the toughest. Anything involving discipline is difficult. It could be discipline of athletes, coaches, staff. Those are the toughest parts for me.”

Dufresne said the realization that some days the AD is in charge but not totally in control of all circumstances can be taxing.

“It’s not that I didn’t sign up for it, but I really don’t look forward to it,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Do I have to do this?’ There are times when sleep eludes you because of issues and concerns you face.

“I’m a person who likes a good challenge, but I like to find a way to win, to find those solutions and, when I can’t, that weighs very heavily on me… And there are some times you just have to say it’s beyond what I can do, and that’s hard to accept.”

The election earlier this month was not one of those days. Thirty-nine candidates were vying for 15 assessor positions, and 12 of those candidates had served in the post before.

In earning a majority of votes of the 123 countries that attended the meeting and election, Dufresne and the CIS clearly had wide support.

“I’m really thrilled,” Dufresne said. “In order to get elected you do need support that’s wide-ranging, and the lobbying that occurs is intense.”

That began in earnest in the spring, once the CIS had decided on its goal and nominee.

Dufresne, a 62-year-old Halifax native, was already a member of the CIS international committee and had worked with FISU on its eligibility committee since 2003.

“We felt it was important to try to move to the executive level where there is hopefully more influence,” Dufresne said. “Canada chose to put my name forward.”

The nomination was supported by Bob Philip — a former CIS president and athletic director at the University of British Columbia and a FISU vice-chairman for ice sports at the Winter Universiade. Philip was Canada’s voting delegate at the election.

“It’s been a learning experience to date already,” Dufresne said. “And being a Canadian carries a lot of weight in terms of the respect given to Canadians. It’s about work ethic and our values and sense of fairness. I think regardless of who was nominated, that sense would be there because of the good work that’s been done in the past by Canadians who have served FISU.

“This is not all about me. We come with something special anyway. And I would also say because I’m female, that was an important consideration.”

There are just six women among FISU’s 23 board-level members and during her recent participation on the body’s eligibility committee, Dufresne was the only female among 25 members.

“There’s room for improvement there at the international level, but there’s a commitment to that,” she said.

Dufresne said she will find out in February which FISU committee assignment she will undertake as an assessor. Until then, she isn’t certain what the position will bring.

“Do I have further aspirations to go higher up? I would say at this point, no,” she said. “I want to look at the next four years, hopefully eight, in this position and see just how much influence there can be there to help Canada. That’s what it’s about. That’s why we want to be there.

“Talk to me in a year’s time and I might have a better idea of what I can do.”



Updated on Thursday, November 19, 2015 9:21 AM CST: Replaces photo

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