As time and social change continues its forward march, it's easy to forget that Manitoban athletics are still in an era of honouring some firsts.

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This article was published 22/4/2015 (2348 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As time and social change continues its forward march, it's easy to forget that Manitoban athletics are still in an era of honouring some firsts.

For instance, when Coleen Dufresne arrived in Manitoba in 1984, she became the first full-time coach in the Bisons women's sport.

Today Dufresne is in charge of the whole shebang, now in her 14th year as the University of Manitoba's athletic director. In October, her career will be formally remembered when she joins three other builders, three athletes and two teams that will be inducted into the Manitoba Basketball Hall of Fame.

It's an accomplished slate.

Among the other folks slated to be inducted at the ceremony on Oct. 3 are Hymie Fox, a longtime Kelvin coach who put more than 30 years into working with young teams, and Maureen Orchard, who has spent decades raising up the national and international wheelchair basketball scene.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the Hall praised Dufresne's 17-year coaching resumé with the Bisons, during which time she helped lead them to three national titles, and was twice named Canadian university sport's coach of the year.

She'd earned that honour once before, as the head coach at the University of New Brunswick in 1983, before then-Bisons athletic director Joyce Fromson lured her out west.

Until that point, Dufresne said, the U of M women's teams had leaned on part-time coaches. She was one of a new set of talents that Fromson hired, including dedicated coaches for the women's swimming and volleyball teams. The investment paid off --so many of Dufresne's teams won and the camaraderie flourished.

"I loved our year-end windup," Dufresne remembered. "The players always put together a video, and they just remembered and brought out so many quirky, funny things. They made fun of themselves, they made fun of me. It was great fun, and I loved those."

Of course, she added with a wry chuckle, "the memories of winning are pretty good, too."

Today, Dufresne's memories also provide a record of how university athletics have changed. When she was getting started in her career, video breakdown was in its early stages in Canadian university basketball; that's become a major piece.

The vast majority of Dufresne's Bisons came from inside Manitoba, while most U of M coaches now have to look outside provincial borders as competition for top players increases. The dollar figures have changed, too. In the mid-1980s, scholarship money for Canadian university sport was far less than it is today. Promising athletes are pegged earlier, and the stakes to snag their interest have raised.

"The recruiting of kids starts at a much earlier age," Dufresne said.

"I didn't have to go grab them in junior high and start recruiting them to a club program. The communication that is now required, and the back-and-forth is a much higher level. We were able to keep Manitobans in Manitoba. They didn't go to the States, they didn't leave the province. Between Manitoba, Winnipeg and Brandon, we kept them here."

These days, of course, that's part of the challenge that Dufresne must navigate in her work. But putting that aside, when she is inducted into the Hall of Fame in October -- not for the first time, she's also in there as a coach of those three Bisons national champions, and a member of the 1986 senior women's team that won a Canadian title -- the first thing that comes to her mind will be the players.

"I look back on so many of the women that I coached, and the things they've accomplished in their lives is impressive," she said. "For me to think that a little piece of their lives I was able to influence them, I hope positively, puts a smile on my face. I'm so very proud of what they've done, and how many strong females there are that came through our program."

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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