One of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s longest-serving football coaches and teachers is calling it a career.
Michael Mackay-Dunn – who helped launch the football program at Earl Marriott Secondary in 2005 – announced earlier this month he was retiring after 22 years teaching, including the last 16 at EMS. Last week, on Mackay-Dunn’s final day at the school, some of his students presented him with an Earl Marriott Football jersey, with the number 21 on it, along with Mackay-Dunn’s ‘Mac Daddy” nickname stitched on the back.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s a huge change but it’s something I’ve been thinking about (for awhile),” said Mackay-Dunn, who also helms the school’s First Nation Studies program, in addition to teaching business and coaching at the South Surrey school.
Prior to teaching and coaching at Earl Marriott, Mackay-Dunn coached and taught at Rick Hansen Secondary in Abbotsford. Before that, he had coaching stints at South Delta and Vancouver College.
Though he admits he’ll miss the job – both teaching and coaching football – he said it’s time that he focused on his own family, noting that coaching is an all-consuming occupation for months at a time.
“You can’t just do everything for yourself – you have to look at the bigger picture,” he said.
“My wife, she’s been great all these years, supporting me so I can do what I do. And I’ve been doing it for awhile, but every year (before football season), I say to her, ‘Sweetheart, don’t plan anything for the next three months or so.’
“It’s been great for me, and it’s been so fulfilling… but it’s time to step back and focus on our family.”
Todd Fenwick, who has been an assistant coach with the football program for a number of years, will take over as head coach of the senior squad.
Mackay-Dunn has been a fixture on the football field at Marriott, as well as in his portable classroom on the north-end of the school’s property since 2005, when he was essentially recruited by a group of parents who were looking to start a football program at the school.
The program has had its ups and down in the years since – largely a result of participation numbers – but in 2014 and ’15, Mackay-Dunn led the senior team to back-to-back provincial Tier 2 championships, and were bumped into the AAA division afterward.
But Mackay-Dunn, as he always has done, is quick to downplay on-field success, and instead is prouder of his off-the-field role in his players’ lives – something he says Fenwick will do a “great job” continuing.
“You’re not just coaching football, you’re coaching life. You teach the kids life skills – you try and teach them hard work and discipline, and get them to do things with integrity. You try to build them up,” he said.
His impact on his students has been recognized by the families of his players, too. In the comments on a Facebook post announcing his retirement, compliments rolled in.
“Beyond grateful for what you’ve invested in our kids,” wrote Catherine Featherstone.
Another commenter, Loretta Abbott, wrote, “Thanks for everything you did to make our children caring, responsible adults! The impact you had on so many young lives was tremendous.”
Prior to spending more than 20 years as a high-school teacher, Mackay-Dunn worked in the heating-and-cooling industry. He’d originally planned to teach, but a part-time job in the HVAC industry one summer after university turned into a full-time gig. And though it was “financially beneficial,” he knew he wanted to teach and coach, so after a handful of years, he returned to teaching.
“It was a tremendous experience, but it wasn’t the same as teaching, it wasn’t the same as coaching,” he said.
“It’s such a great profession and I feel very fortunate to have been able to do this every day.”
Mackay-Dunn said he “won’t be too far away,” and is likely to continue doing some work with Semiahmoo First Nation, and will always continue to talk football with Fenwick.
He’s self-aware enough to know the lure coaching football has on him. That’s why, on the first day of school this fall, he and his wife will be miles away at a cabin they’ve rented in Wells Grey Park.
“There’s no internet, no nothing,” he said.
“You have to be careful. The closer and closer I get to (football), it’s tougher to (pull back) and then the next thing you know, you’re back doing it full-time again… and I don’t want to have to retire twice.”