SURREY — The latest honour that came Geri Donnelly’s way took her by complete surprise.
The retired soccer star is among 11 athletes inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame, which hosted a Banquet of Champions at a Vancouver hotel on June 9.
Donnelly, a teacher for two decades at Enver Creek Secondary in Surrey, was told about her induction in a phone call from Jim Lightbody, chair of the hall’s board of trustees.
“He said it was an incredible class (of inductees), and the press conference was the first time I found out who else was there,” Donnelly told the Now. “And I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, how did I get included with this group?’” she added with a laugh. “It was an incredible group of people there.”
In addition to Donnelly, the hall’s 2016 induction class includes athletes Dave Barr (golf), Dave Cutler (football), Steve Nash (basketball) and Carl Valentine (soccer). Coach-builder category inductees include Wally Buono (football), Diane Clement (athletics) and Allison McNeill (basketball), among others.
In 2014, Donnelly was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame for her trailblazing ways on the pitch.
Memorably, in a crucial game against the U.S. in 1986, the London, England-born player scored the first two goals in the history of Canadian women’s national soccer.
“Somebody had to do it, and I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time,” Donnelly said. “We were desperate (to win), because we were basically told that the future of women’s soccer in Canada was on our shoulders, the whole program. We were so excited after that game.”
Donnelly eventually captained the national team and paved a path for its more recent successes, including a bronze medal at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
On the club side, Donnelly won three Canadian national championships, including one with Surrey United in 2006. Along the way, she helped the local squad earn two national silver medals and three bronze, along with six straight B.C. titles, before retiring in 2009 at the age of 43.
“It was time,” Donnelly said of her decision to retire that season. “At that point I was playing against people in their 20s, so it was probably time to hang up the boots. And I don’t have a desire to play over-40s, over-50s (soccer), anything like that. I said I’m going to finish here and kind of put my career on the shelf and walk away and do other things – things I haven’t had a chance to do in life, like biking and hiking.”
Today, the humble Donnelly coaches junior-level soccer teams at Enver Creek.
“I think some of the students have an idea (about her hall-of-fame soccer career),” Donnelly said, “but most of them are probably unaware. Occasionally I’ll have a student approach me that they’d read something about me playing soccer and they’ll ask about it. It’s just not something I’d tell them if they didn’t ask.”
Among the 850 guests at the sports hall’s banquet was a table of 12 women who had played soccer with Donnelly over the previous 30-plus years.
“It was great to celebrate it with my ’mates, as I call them,” she said, “but I’ve always found it difficult to be recognized as an individual in a team sport. There are a lot of pioneers out there in soccer, not just me.”