Coach White steps up
When Chris McBride retired from St. Catharines Collegiate in 2015, it left a hole in the classroom and on the football field.
“At his farewell party, Tammy (then-principal Zonneveld) after the farewells said, ‘Oh by the way, we will be looking for a new football coach’ kind of jokingly,” Lori White said. “I just put my hand up and no one else did. She kind of thought that I was joking but I really wasn’t.
“I knew I wasn’t going to have the full responsibilities on my shoulders because I had never played growing up but I was very much on the sidelines during my high school experience cheering on the football team.”
The 44-year-old Kitchener native has never looked back and she has become a key cog on the Collegiate coaching staff, which is headed by community coach Nathan Greene.
“I went in, I got the training I needed and the rest is history.”
Her role on the team has evolved over time.
“There are a lot of hats that I wear but in a coaching role this year, I was helping out the defensive coordinator and I took more of a role with the defensive backs and halfbacks, running practices and getting those guys prepared.”
She is hoping to add more defensive responsibilities to her coaching duties before eventually moving over to the offensive side of the ball.
White loves coaching football.
“Coaching football really lends itself to having opportunities with these kids to teach them about life,” she said. “It is teaching them about perseverance, resiliency, believing in themselves, hard work and trust.”
One of the hardest things for the Collegiate coaching staff has been to retain the players during the season and into the following seasons.
“When we retain them, we can work on these life lessons that just come from attending practice and learning the game of football which is awesome,” she said. “They just become better humans because of it.”
Greene respects White’s knowledge of football but what most impresses him is the way she deals with those life lessons.
“Coach White embraces difficult social issues that present themselves within team dynamics. These issues are not easy to talk about; racism, sexual exploitation and poverty are just a few examples,” he said. “In the few times that these polarizing issues presented themselves, Lori has turned them into positive learning events. Many coaches would sidestep these difficult topics but Lori takes these events head on. She initiates hard-to-have conversations.”
Greene has witnessed White helping players work through the complex emotions inherent to these discussions.
“This has made our team a cohesive unit that is a true football family. Most importantly, our players become better citizens and this makes me proud,” he said. “Coach White does this better than any other. There is no rival. She has taken on issues that could destroy a team and turned them into rallying points. Ultimately this makes the team stronger and creates citizens that understand the importance of integrity.”
White loves that Collegiate football turns no player away.
“It’s great to be out there working my butt off to retain them all so they can have these experiences to believe in themselves, to believe in somebody else and to have some success and failures. And all the while they are learning the game,” she said. “That is the most important thing but it is almost secondary. If we can get them to love the game a little bit, what they are going to remember is all of these lessons.”
The Brock phys-ed grad and York teachers college alumnus finds it had to pinpoint a single high point in her football coaching career.
“Right now I am excited and happy about where Collegiate is in terms of how we ended the season this year,” she said. “I have been with them for six years and the year before COVID, Nathan and I were worried that we might have to fold the team after 100 years.”
All those worries dissipated in 2021.
“For the first time in my experience, we had 20-25 kids at practice and they were so eager to learn,” White said. “To end the season on such a high is a really great moment for Collegiate football. The turf field is knocking at our door and the kids are excited. That’s all we can ask for and it makes what we do even more worthwhile.”
White is the only female high school football coach in Niagara but she doesn’t she herself as a trailblazer.
“It hasn’t even crossed my mind but I guess my personality is very much that so it makes a little bit of sense,” she said. “I think it is something that is just in me. I’ve always loved football and in a past life, I think I played it. I love it that much.”
Greene often tells people that White is going to be the first female head football coach in Niagara high school football but she is in no rush to add that to her resume.
“I told him I have 15 years left and to make sure you tell me in my 14th year,” White said, with a laugh. “I am real enjoying the momentum we have created at Collegiate and learning, and I would love for COVID to end as the whole world would so we can start to hit the ground running.”
In addition to football, White has also coaching basketball and girls soccer at the high school level. She has been in charge of the girls soccer program for the past five years.
“My loves and my passions are girls soccer and football.”
She believes it is important for teachers to coach.
“The kids look up to adults, whether we want to admit that or not, and when we take the time to show kids that they matter rather than weightlessly telling them that they matter, it means the world to them,” White said. “It is so important to give kids these opportunities to connect with their teachers in situations that aren’t in the classrooms.”
It is also beneficial to her.
“Coaching makes me a better person and if I can impact one kid’s life in a positive way, then I am doing my job.”
Doing much more than her job is in White’s DNA. She played a major role in the development of a fitness centre at Collegiate. The centre had its beginnings when she was interviewing for a job with Zonneveld back in 2015.
“I saw a need and the potential to have a fitness centre in that space and I told her that I wanted to commit myself to raising $100,000 and creating this space. Tammy said OK and two years later it was born,” she said. “It showcases that if you dare to dream about something you can achieve it. There are so many people who had a hand in creating it and if Tammy hadn’t of said yes, it would not have happened. It takes a village.”
Funds were raised through trivia nights, canteen sales and donations from the community, including alumnus Lezlie Murch and an anonymous donor who each contributed $10,000.
“Because of everyone working together and collaborating, now we have this amazing facility that kids, staff and the community can use for years to come,” White said.
The $100,000 was used to purchase the equipment, an audio visual system, a floor and other items.
White, who played soccer and competitive fastball growing up, moved to St. Catharines in 1999 to attend Brock University. She did a phys-ed degree at the St. Catharines school and played on the university’s soccer team for four seasons.
White has been teaching with the District School Board of Niagara since 2004, excluding a stint spent teaching in Saskatchewan, and had stops at Kernahan Park, Centennial, Stamford and E.L. Crossley before arriving at St. Catharines Collegiate in 2015 to teach phys-ed.
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