After spending much of the last decade as either a player or coach with the Regina Riot of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL), Claire Dore is no stranger to Mosaic Stadium.
This weekend, Dore will be back on familiar ground, just in a new role with a new team.
When the Regina product steps onto the Mosaic turf it will be as Team Saskatchewan’s head coach at the first-ever U18 women’s tackle football national championship, which begins on Sunday.
Since 1995, the Football Canada Cup has been a premier event for U18 boys looking to compete on the national stage. This will be the first national championship-type competition for females.
“Anytime you get to break a ceiling or a wall down for the next generation — it’s an honour. To be recognized and to know that the work that’s been put in, has paid off in that regard,” said Dore.
Women’s football is growing across the country. The WWCFL recently completed its 10th season, while flag football among females is booming.
“I’m really excited to see the young talent that Saskatchewan has in female tackle football that I’ve seen growing over all women’s football over the last 10 years, but in youth football in the last five years,” the U18 coach said. “The growth that we have — I’m excited to see that now take effect at an interprovincial or national level event where we can start to show young women that tackle football will be an option in terms of being an elite sport.”
When Team Saskatchewan takes the field for their first game against New Brunswick on Sunday – they’ll do so at Mosaic Stadium, the home of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Having the opportunity to host the event at a CFL stadium is something Dore believes is a pretty special touch.
“There’s an extra piece of excitement for our players,” said Dore. “There is something exciting for our athletes to go to that professional stadium. It’s a special legacy piece of Saskatchewan. So for it to happen there, I think is especially unique and it will be extra special for our home athletes.”
Dore was once a young athlete getting her introduction to the sport. After a five-year career as a member of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s basketball team ended and her time with the Canadian national handball team was wrapping up, football gave her the ability to continue competing.
She was on the field with the Riot in 2011 for the very first season of the WWCFL. Women’s football was just getting its start in Saskatchewan and needed players and coaches – Dore was in the right place at the right time. She went on to play seven seasons with the Riot, winning two WWCFL Championships, including the 2017 title in her final season on the team. That same year she captured gold with Team Saskatchewan at the women’s national championships — a team she also played for at the inaugural 2012 event.
Dore also represented Team Canada twice as a player in 2013 and 2017, winning silver both times. She retired after the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championship in Langley, B.C.
This summer, she will be back wearing the maple leaf – this time as a receivers coach for Team Canada at the 2022 World Championship in Finland from July 27 to Aug. 8.
“I’ve been with the Riot since day one, so I’ve known Claire as a player since the beginning,” said Riot head coach Kris Hadesback. “It’s been great to see her grow and do it the right way from the ground up. She’s earned every opportunity she’s got. She’s put the work in – on and off the field.”
“The girls love her. They love being coached by her. Everyone just really respects and looks up to her.”
While the sport has taken her all around the globe, it’s also helped create some of her fondest relationships. It was through football that Dore says she met her closest, core friend group. It also was how she met her spouse.
As part of the LGBTQ2SI+ community, a priority of Dore’s is to cultivate a team atmosphere where her players can be their authentic self.
“I grew up in an age where people weren’t comfortable coming out and I was inadvertently outed to my team at one point. I don’t want other people to have to feel like that’s going to happen to them. I want everyone to feel like there’s a place for them to participate and to feel welcome and to feel at home,” said Dore.
“One of the great things about football is we have athletes of all shapes and sizes and skills and we welcome them. We encourage athletes to come who don’t necessarily fit some of the typical female athlete body types and that applies to everything else — you can come and be your authentic self in football and we will love you for it. My teams are aware that I have a spouse and not a husband and that’s truly how I am and it doesn’t have to change how I behave or treat the athletes, it’s just who I am — hopefully that gives others the strength to say ‘Hey, I can do that too.’”
Being a LGBTQ2SI+ figure in sports is not something Dore takes lightly. She doesn’t want to just be a checkmark on a diversity checklist.
“I try to be very aware and conscientious and try to keep myself informed. I’m far from perfect but you will always see me making that effort to use someone’s preferred name, to get pronouns right, to do those things that say, you matter as you are. I want that to be a message that transcends football and me as a coach,” she added.
Dore doesn’t only educate on the gridiron. A teacher by day, when she isn’t working with students in math and physical education at Balfour Collegiate in Regina, she’s on the football field. She is the head coach of the Balfour Bears senior high school football team and Regina Minor Football’s Victorias, as well as the offensive coordinator for the Riot.
“When I go into something, I go all in,” said Dore, who believes she is Saskatchewan’s first female high school senior football head coach.
Where that all in attitude will take her, Dore has an open mind.
That next step of growth in female football begins this weekend in Regina.
For more information on the inaugural 2022 Women’s Under-18 Championship, including a full schedule, visit footballcanada.ca