Originally written by MICHAEL HOWARD
KAREN Smith’s tireless contribution to junior football was recognised at the 14th annual Sportconnect Victorian Coach of the Year presentation dinner, which was held at Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Over 170 people raised their glasses to the Dunkeld Consolidated School teacher, who was named 2001 Victorian Auskick Coach of the Year, for her services to Auskick and Aussie Football in the Dunkeld region over the past five years.
It was honor which surprised and shocked Smith.
“It was a lovely surprise,” Smith said. “When they said my name it was like ‘oh my god’. It was a nice suprise.”
In winning, Smith became the first woman in the history of the awards to win the title in any category since its inception in 1989.
It is an achievement not lost on Western Region football development manager, Jock Whiting.
“It is a very prestigious award and can not be rated more highly,” Whiting said.
“It is the highest individual honor that a person can be awarded through the coaches association and Karen is a deserved winner.
“Her contribution to Auskick and Aussie Footy, not only through Dunkeld, but throughout the region has been outstanding.”
Smith helped instigate Auskick in Dunkeld five years ago, and has been co-ordinator since that date.
She has also become involved as co-ordinator of Aussie Footy, which Dunkeld contests in conjunction with Cavendish.
“Her work gives kids an opportunity to get involved in a football-based program which is very good for the kids to develop hand-eye co-ordination.”
Whiting described Smith’s strengths as “her ability to communcate, her friendliness and understanding of the age group and the parents”.
They are words which are all a bit overwhelming for the victor.
“I thought it was just a great privilege to be there in the company of great football people like Allan Jeans,” Smith said.
“To be honest I was just looking forward to being at the MCG. I thought I may not get another chance to be there in an official capacity, but I thought there was no way I would have any chance of winning.
“Having won, I guess it is probably good for Dunkeld and I suppose good for women, being the first female to win it.”
And without doubt, the subsequent trophy will hold pride of place on Smith’s mantlepiece.
“I certainly rate this award very highly. I don’t really have anything that I can compare it to.
“I am getting married next year and I am sure that the award won’t compare to that, but I have never really received anything like this.
“It is very nice to know that somebody recognises what you do.”
However, Smith was quick to add that the unexpected recognition was not the biggest reward for her involvement in the junior programs.
“It is reward enough just to have the kids involved in physical sport.
“To see them enjoying themselves and their skills improve so much over the 10 weeks of Auskick is all the reward that I need.”
Her win continues a good recent run from the Western Region, which includes George Fitzpatrick winning the Auskick category in 1997 and Peter Sims winning the senior award in 1999.
“This is really good for the region,” Whiting said. “I think it reflects that we place a fair bit of emphasise on the awards.
“I think the association has taken a more active interest in recent years and that has been reflected in the results.
“It is exciting for the region, and is a sign that we are certainly being recognised in Melbourne for the quality of coaches that we have had nominated.”
However, among the good news is also a bit of bad for the region, which will lose the services of Smith midway through next year.
“I am getting married in June or July and moving to Townsville with my fiance (Adam Kent).
“I have told the other organisers that I will be like a prophet and spread the word on football throughout Rugby League territory.”
One thing that is for sure, when Smith packs her suitcase her newly acquired trophy will gain a place.
However, packing may become a bigger task that first expected, after Smith was also awarded the Barwon South-Western Region Coaches Award through the department of education, which she will accept in Warrnambool on November 21.
That award also recognised her contribution to Auskick and Aussie Footy, as well as junior netball teams and her involvement in Jump Rope For Heart.
IN OTHER awards handed out at the MCG, Glenn Keast, formerly of North Gambier Football Club and a player in the under-15 Western Border schoolboys representative team, took out the senior category of the awards.
Keast is the current coach of North Shore Football Club.
The VFL coach of the year also has links to the Western Region.
Former Monivae student Donald McDonald, who also played in under-15 and under-16 squads in the Western Region, was recognised as VFL coach of the year having led the Box Hill Hawks to a premiership.