London News & Search
The negotiation lasted months.
Denise Fortin, full-time teacher, college assistant coach and married mother of three young children, wanted one last crack at high-level soccer this season.
“My husband (Conlan) has been incredibly supportive,” the 33-year-old leader of the FC London women’s squad said. “Sometimes it’s crazy and we went back and forth on it, but we’re all about, ‘It takes a village (to raise children).’
“And between my husband, parents and in-laws, we’ve been able to take care of the kids and navigate that. Otherwise it’s not possible.”
This would be a nice little story of desire and gusto if Fortin was a late-game sub on a middling roster. That’s not the case at all.
She’s the veteran central midfielder who ranks third in minutes played on the League1 Ontario defending champs. FC London, which faces Aurora Saturday at 9 p.m. at the German-Canadian Club, is on a roll, outscoring its foes by a combined 36 goals in the last 12 games.
And don’t forget, most of her teammates are college-aged and in some cases still teenagers.
“I never thought I’d have this chance at my life stage,” she said. “I didn’t even think this was a possibility. Playing at this level with people like (top gun) Jade Kovacevic and to play with the future too — these younger players like Kaila (Novak), it’s been an amazing opportunity.”
When FC London rebooted last year, coach Mike Marcoccia wanted Fortin because of her soccer pedigree.
The John Paul II grad had been captain of Team Ontario for three straight years, then became a Hall of Famer and two-time ESPN first team academic all-American at Tusculum College in Tennessee.
But she was a little worried.
Those honours happened before she had a career (she’s a phys ed teacher at Monseigner-Bruyere high school) and gave birth three times (to daughters Maeve, 5, and Anneline, 3, and son Theo, 2).
“I remember telling Mike I hope I don’t disappoint you,” Fortin said, “and at first, you’re thinking how am I going to do this? I was always active through my pregnancies and when I had my kids, I always came back a few weeks later and was playing. I haven’t been able to play like I did in my prime — naturally, I’m slower and older — but I’ve adapted my positioning. Your brain has to work more quickly and my decision-making has been good.
“Could I do better? Absolutely, but I also have to be realistic. Mike keeps playing me, so he must be happy with what I’m doing. He believes so much in me, a player has to feel that, right?”
Her teammates gravitate towards her, and look to her for support. She’s happy to lend it in a uniquely non-authoritarian way.
“I’m a high school teacher, so I’m around younger people a lot,” she said, “but as a teacher, you can’t actually become friends with your students. In this environment, you can, so that’s been super cool.
“And to have a quality coach like Mike, who’s been a friend of mine for a long time, has been special. They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but I’ve learned so much in the last two years I’ve played.”
The biggest positive of Marcoccia, she said, has been keeping the entire team engaged. Most of the team’s original starters have already left for school — but their back-ups have kept the pace.
“The quality hasn’t diminished,” Fortin said. “You can see on some teams, if you’re not playing in the beginning, you lose interest and give up. We’ve continued the standard and hopefully, we’ll be able to finish strong.”
After capturing the league Cup, they have turned their attention to tracking down North Mississauga in the standings and repeating atop the table.
“We had a rough start — two losses early on,” she said, “but now, we’re back on top and hopefully, we can do it again.”
This is her last season. There is no deal-making left to convince her to come back.
Oh, sure, she’ll play on a local premier league team, but it’s time to start driving her kids to their activities. Maybe that will involve the soccer field, and maybe not.
“My family doesn’t believe me when I say I’m done,” she said. “They say, ‘Sure, Denise’. At the end of last season, I cried, thinking, ‘Omigosh, it’s over.’ So when I went back, it was kind of a shock.
“But I feel it inside of me now. My life has revolved around soccer and I’m ready to walk away from it. So mark it down.”
London News & Search