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Sooke soccer academy coach hanging up the cleats

After creating the soccer academy at Edward Milne Community School, Kelly Hunter is set to retire after 19 years
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Long-time EMCS teacher and soccer academy coach is retiring at the end of the school year. (Rick Stiebel - News Staff)

Kelly Hunter’s vision of what could be will shine again in September when students in Edward Milne Community School’s (EMCS) Soccer Academy take to the field.

Although Hunter is retiring after 19 years at the helm of the program she launched, she’s certain the principles she emphasised when she kick-started the program will continue.

“I’m sure the academy will be in good hands moving forward,” said Hunter, who began her career at EMCS as a teacher on call in 1998. “It will be bittersweet retiring, but I am super happy to know the incumbent is equally qualified, and young,” she added with a laugh.

This year marks her 26th at the school, where she has served as head of the physical health and education department for the past eight years. She earned her master’s degree in Leadership and Administration in 2014 while teaching full-time.

Hunter, with the support of former EMCS principal Ross Leadbetter, first approached the Sooke School District’s board of education about starting a soccer academy in 2005.

She has carefully built the program since its inception in 2006, expanding the soccer academy to include students at Dunsmuir Middle School (DMS) and Royal Bay Secondary School (RBSS). The first year included 23 students at EMCS, with 44 taking part this year. That brings the total for all three schools to about 160 students for the year.

“For a small school, we have a strong number of girls and boys in all grades participating at EMCS,” she noted. “They all learn such things as sports psychology, weight training principles, defensive and offensive tactical skills in field sessions, futsal, and learning to work as a team. These are life skills the students can take with them into the world after school.”

Hunter has continued to slowly build the program, resulting in the soccer academy now being offered at DMS and RBSS.

“I think what has made the soccer academy so successful is that we try to have fun developing skills in a safe environment,” she explained. “Everyone is accepting of each other’s skill level, they work so hard together, and they’re having fun while doing it. I witness a real bond between them all, like a family.”

Hunter also had high praise for her “amazing” co-teacher and coach, Amy Hawkings.

“Being a teacher is so rewarding,” Hunter said. “This might be cliché, but while you get to teach youth lifelong skills, a teacher also learns from the students, how to be patient, understanding, compassionate, and how to make positive changes in a their live. A teacher really cares.”

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Kelly Hunter, far right, is retiring after 19 years in charge of the Edward Milne Community School Soccer Academy. (EMCS Soccer Academy/Contributed)

Hunter has always stressed the importance of ensuring the students give back to the community by helping local organizations.

“The support from the people of Sooke is extraordinary,” she said. “And it’s great to see how proud the kids are about the contributions they make.”

Hunter, who played basketball and was on the rowing team at the University of Victoria, has been involved in sports all of her life. She coached basketball, cross country, volleyball and track and field between 2000 and 2019, in addition to her work with the soccer academy.

“They call soccer the beautiful game for a reason,” she said. “Watching the sport with the highest level of skills and athleticism on full display is amazing. Seeing how 11 players on a big field can tic-tac-toe the ball around is truly something special.”

Masato Takao, one of the two coaches Hunter works with, said Hunter’s flexible approach to coaching works well with the students.

“The students are fun while developing skills,” said Takao, owner/operator of JP Sports Training. “Kelly’s always smiling and there’s a lot of mutual respect, which makes it easy to work with her. She will be missed, but knowing Kelly, I’m certain she’ll still be around.”

In the meantime, Hunter’s looking forward to having more time to pursue some of her other passions, notably alpine hiking and golf.

“Retirement probably won’t sink in until I head off on a cruise with some friends in September,” she admitted.

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