She's earned her respect

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

At first glimpse, it certainly appears odd.

But it can't be helped. A second glance. Maybe a third. And, heck, why not four, just to make sure.

There are no tricks here. It really is a female coach on the sidelines for the Edmonton Victoria under-18 boys soccer team, who will be representing the province this weekend in the national championship tournament.

True enough that Catherine Dickie is instantly eye-catching - a way-high score on the Wow-meter - just don't assume that she's standing there alongside her father, Neil, for window dressing. Any guy with a pulse would give her undivided attention. The Victoria players are engrossed because she's earned their respect.

"She's such a defensive specialist, I don't think we'd be in the nationals if it wasn't for her," said Gordie Garritty, Victoria's 18-year-old captain.

Dickie's knowledge of the game is quickly apparent and the single most important reason why she is the club's assistant bench boss. That the willowy 24-year-old blond is rather fetching really shouldn't matter, but it has created some memorable moments - comical cute ones among her and the players, others not so funny and often unbelievably mean-spirited.

'ALL RIGHT, I'LL SEE YA LATER'

"Last year at provincials we beat this team from Calgary and I went to shake their coach's hand and he said, 'If you're a coach, I'm quitting.' I said, 'All right, see ya later.'

"A lot of the (male) coaches are old-school, from Europe or South America, and it's a men's sport typically even though women are excelling in Canada faster than men. It's still a boys' club and they don't listen to what I'm saying."

Her players are tuned in to her intelligence and give her backing when it comes to any misgivings the opposition may have.

"Some teams have been very disrespectful, so I'll go up to their captain and smarten them up or a bunch of us will tell their bench," said Garritty. "Even though she's hot she knows what she's talking about.

"I guess if I was on another team, my first opinion would be, 'What is she doing there?'

"But it's a stereotype based on her looks. Other girl coaches wear sweatpants and hoodies and everyone keeps their comments to themselves. But I guess because she looks different than that people talk about her."

Catherine's proud pop speaks glowingly of his daughter's insightful instruction. On her own, she guided the club through provincial playdowns two years in a row and led them to a win over the national under-19 girls team this season. Yet there is still criticism and cruelty.

"She has been treated very badly by coaches on other teams and I think that is such a bad message to send to young players," said Neil Dickie.

"If it was a son I had coaching there'd still be questions of nepotism and then she's a bit striking as well. So take those two things away. She got injured and quit playing and I gave her a chance to come down and run some training sessions and it grew from there. I discovered she had quite an eye for the game and a wisdom and a feel for the game that I have not seen in many young people."

Vulgar comments and rude behaviour haven't deterred Catherine from coaching. In fact, she's determined to keep going in her own unique way.

"I want to break down doors. I don't just want to be thrown into the mix," she explained. "That's why I like coaching the guys. As a player I was never anybody that anybody ever remembered for anything. This is more my forte."

LONG RELATIONSHIP

Ten of Victoria's players have been under Dickie's tutelage for more than four years - Garritty, for one, has been there for seven seasons. The experienced players are well aware of Catherine's role and demeanour and any wisecracking newcomers, just like boorish opponents, are quickly sorted out.

"The very first thing that happens is they meet my dad. He's a Scotsman so he's got a temper and right away I have to establish where I am with them," said Catherine. "I treat them horribly in the first few days because if they don't respect me then they won't listen to me."

Though it could conceivably be a somewhat awkward coach-player relationship considering the closeness in age, it's never once been an issue. In fact, the players often value Catherine's insight into their own off-field relationships.

"They're all like little brothers to me," said Catherine. "A lot of them talk to me about personal situtions. It's good for them in the way they treat women. It's got to the point where they burp and say, 'Excuse me' or they spit near me and say 'sorry.'

"It's not anything I made them do. It's just them being respectful."

FREE KICKS ...

Edmonton Victoria begins its quest for the JVC Cup tomorrow at 2 p.m. against the Montreal Concordia Elite. That five-team pool includes Eliot River from P.E.I., Ontario's North York Hearts Azzurri and Manitoba's North West Storm. In the other pool are the St. John's Storm, Halifax Dunbrack, Moncton First Touch, Saskatoon Hollandia Gremio and Abbotsford Mariners ... Alberta is represented by the Calgary Celtic Vitesse on the U-18 girls side ... All games are at the Edmonton Soccer Complex (14920 - 142 St., just past the Victoria Soccer Club) and admission is a contribution to Edmonton's Food Bank.


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