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Don Dulder Named to Volleyball Manitoba Hall of Fame

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Linda Clark, Don Dulder, and Heather Bradshaw. Rusty Barton Photography, c/o Volleyball Manitoba

On June 12, Volleyball Manitoba recognized the lifetime achievements of Don Dulder, head coach of the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) Blazers volleyball team and former Phys Ed teacher and volleyball coach at Niverville Collegiate Institute.

Volleyball Manitoba inducted Dulder into the Volleyball Manitoba Hall of Fame at their annual awards banquet at the Canad Inns Destination Centre Polo Park. The celebration also recognized other outstanding athletes, coaches, volunteers, and officials.

Dulder worked in Niverville for 37 years and, over the scope of his career, made many advancements for the sport of volleyball in Manitoba while making a significant impact on the lives of many he taught and coached along the way.

A Career of Unrivalled Success

Dulder grew up in Morris, playing basketball while pursuing track and field and other sports. As a young teacher in the 1970s at Niverville Collegiate, he began coaching many sports, including basketball, track and field, badminton, golf, and eventually concentrating on boys volleyball.

In order to develop his high school teams, he also coached club volleyball out of Niverville for close to two decades, winning many medals along the way at the provincial and even national championship levels.

After retirement, Dulder continued to coach at the highest club level in Manitoba, with his WinMan 18U team winning provincial gold medals in 2013 and 2014, a national Tier 1 silver medal in 2011, a national Tier 1 bronze medal in 2014, and a national Tier 1 Championship in 2013.

Regardless of the success his teams experienced, Dulder sought to improve himself as a coach by constantly seeking out opinions from other coaches and attending countless professional development courses in coaching. To this day, he has never stopped being an enthusiastic learner of the sport.

“Don’s humble nature and humility, all while being a model of sportsmanship and fair play, have made him a very popular member of Manitoba’s coaching family.”

In 37 years of teaching in Niverville, he coached his team to the Zone championship 22 times, and to Provincials 10 times. In his last eight years at the school, the Varsity team competed at the AAAA level, advancing to the final-eight five times, and to the final-four twice.

He also served as Zone 13 Athletic Council President for 25 years. The coaching recognitions he received over the years include the Volleyball Manitoba Mary Jean England Coach of the Year in 2013, being given MVA Honour Society recognition in 2006, being named the MCAC Coach of the Year in 2017, and honoured at the MHSAA Recognition Awards in 1994 and 2001.

In 2014, Dulder was hired by the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) to lead their men’s team in the Manitoba College Athletic Association (MCAC). During this period, his teams have won the MCAC championship four times (2017, 2018, 2020, and 2022). In 2022, CMU qualified and competed at the CCAA National Championships.

Despite his familiarity with success, when Dulder received the news that Volleyball Manitoba wanted to honour him in this way, his first reaction was complete surprise.

“I was very surprised, honoured, humbled,” says Dulder. “The Hall of Fame was never something I would even have thought of. You don’t coach to be put in a Hall of Fame. It totally caught me by surprise. I coach because I enjoy it. It’s not about winning; it’s about the relationships with the players, and it’s a great deal of fun.”

Memories of Niverville

Teaching and coaching has come a long way from the 1970s when he began teaching in Niverville.

“A lot of people had the misconception that you have to be athletic [in the 70s],” says Dulder. “Nowadays it’s about activity and participation. What excited me the most was seeing students really enjoy activity and enjoy Phys Ed. I remember a time when they didn’t have Grade 11 and 12 Phys Ed. I had several students come back and told me they missed it, just the opportunity to be active in their day.”

Over the course of his career, Dulder taught thousands of students in Niverville.

“I’ve had former students stop me and say hi and they remember me, and I have to admit, my biggest problem is remembering them,” he says. “This is not because of anything negative, it’s just the way it is. In fact, in some ways, as a teacher if you remember a student it’s often because they were challenging. You don’t remember the ones who are in the middle of the pack and don’t cause problems, even though those were probably the good ones that I should remember.”

There are many aspects of his time in Niverville that Dulder finds rewarding, and he remembers his time serving the community fondly. When asked if there’s a career highlight that really stands out from Niverville Collegiate Institute, he says there are frankly too many to choose from.

“It’s very difficult to choose just one,” he says. “On a personal note, which is kind of a selfish thing, it was 2009, when I received the NHSA Coach of the Year award. And, well, I just think about some of the teams we had in the last eight years I was there. I was so proud of the fact that the players were jumped to the AAAA level. We were a AA school, but I challenged the players and parents to play against the best and see what we were really made of. And we were the only AA school that for eight years we went AAAA. That was really remarkable.”

Dulder recalls with pleasure how surprised he was that the players and parents were able to rise to that challenge.

“The one team I remember, there was that one Mike Hamm was on and the team made the final four in those years. It was pretty impressive, actually.”

Niverville the Underdog

What Dulder finds impressive, other coaches did also. Under Dulder’s leadership, many larger communities soon learned that when Niverville came to play, the small-town team often came away with a win.

Dulder generously suggests there could be a variety of reasons Niverville’s volleyball teams were so successful during that time.

“Niveville was a great community,” he says. “It was an advantage to be close to the city, so it allowed it because of the geography to play the AAAA schools and get to that level. We did have players that even played with WinMan, and some of the top clubs.”

One time, Dulder says he had the opportunity to take the 17U boys team to club nationals in Abbotsford where they were able to go up against some really difficult competition from larger towns and cities.

“It was the first time I’d ever been to nationals, and here’s these guys from Niverville,” Dulder remembers. “We walk out to the court and there was a team called the Pacman. They’re wearing T-shirts that said 15U national champions. I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? Our first game and we have to play the national champions?’”

Dulder says that despite the team’s discouragement, they rallied and made it to the third game in the set. Niverville didn’t win that game, but the team scored well.

“The coach came up after the set and asked, ‘Where is this place called Niverville? What was the size of the player pool you draw from?’ And I asked them the same. They were drawing from a surrounding population of one million students while we only had from around 150 eligible players to draw our team from. And we only lost 15–12 in the third game. Other coaches were saying that was unheard of. I was so proud of my guys. They were an awesome group that year. We went on to be at that level for many years. But I remember that distinctly.”

Present and Future Coaching

With every win on and off the court, Dulder recognizes there is a community of people around him as well, and he always shares the credit with that community. From students to other coaches, to staff and volunteers, to parents supporting their athletic children, Dulder would like to see every positive contributing relationship acknowledged.

“It’s always been about relationships,” says Dulder. “And as we get older, it’s especially about relationships. Now I’m at CMU. I know I’m there to coach, but it’s the relationships I have with the CMU community and the players. They are older, so they’re more mature, ages 17 to 25, and they really put their heart, and put in the effort. It’s an outstanding community.”

When you’ve coached as long as he has, you see a lot of changes come to the sport—and Dulder says that not all of the changes have been positive.

“When I started teaching in the 70s, 90 percent of the coaches were staff members. There was an unwritten rule that it was part of the job, though it really wasn’t,” he says. “By the time I retired in 2009, it was the reverse. I see the potential for sport in high schools to fall by the wayside, and it may become all club. But that’s kind of unfortunate. Keeping sport in school, having gym, it’s often a highlight for kids and it keeps them in school. I ask my grandkid, ‘What did you do in school today?’ and it’s the active play that keeps them going throughout their day. It’s so important.”

A lot of schools struggle to find support staff or volunteers to give of their time to extracurricular sports. Dulder would like to encourage anyone considering giving back to their community to consider coaching.

“It’s a hard sell. We’re all busy. Everyone’s busy. And if you’re not already involved in coaching, it’s hard to convey how gratifying the process is,” says Dulder. “Yeah, we love to win, but it’s not about that. It’s about the relationships you establish.”

He has one more story to tell, one that really gets to the heart of why he loves what he does.

“I was in Smitty’s a few weeks ago, and I saw two brothers I used to coach at WinMan and they start yelling, ‘Hey, Donny, how’s it going?’ I see them and we’re hugging each other and reminiscing for the next 15 minutes. What can I say? That’s what it’s all about.”

Even on the heels of another recent win, the coach continues to focus on how personally rewarding it is to see players improve and work hard as the measure of true success. In March, Dulder’s CMU team won a conference tournament and went to nationals in Quebec City.

“It was so rewarding to see our guys win. Sure, it’s gratifying to see them win, but it’s not about that. It’s not,” Dulder says firmly. “I use the phrase, priceless. You just can’t put it into words. It’s the relationships we make and we have in all of this. It’s such a gratifying experience. Priceless.”

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