University of Charleston

University of Charleston

Brenda Canal, ‘72

As the class of 1972 draws near the celebration of their 50th reunion, there are probably several alumni pulling out their old yearbooks. If they are, they would find their classmate, Brenda Canal, listed as a recipient of the 1971 Who’s Who in American Universities and Colleges honor.  Fifty years later, Brenda received another honor. This time, on a field, in her beloved hometown where she spent her career as a pioneer teacher and coach.

For most of her childhood, Brenda lived in Oradell, New Jersey. “I grew up during a time when it wasn’t favorable for little girls to like sports, but I just absolutely loved and have always been interested in sports.”

Her family spent four years away from Oradell when her father’s job with General Motors transferred them to Brazil. “I would go down to the actual sand lot and play soccer almost every day. I didn’t speak their language, but you don’t need to speak the same language when you are playing the game. One day, I traded my roller skates for a baseball glove, but my mother wanted me to undo the exchange. It was just the culture of the times we were living in. However, I thank God that I had a father that said, ‘Let her have a glove.’ He even coached my recreation softball team when we returned to New Jersey.”

Brenda graduated from River Dell High school in 1968. She chose to attend Morris Harvey College after hearing great reports from two fellow River Dell graduates that had not only attended MHC but majored in physical education, Brenda’s sought-after major. She was lucky to have a friend from River Dell making the trip to Charleston, too.  Cathie Conway Boccieri, class of ’72, and Brenda are still good friends.

“I knew nothing about West Virginia, but I was off to Morris Harvey College. I met some great people there and became a member of the Gamma Delta Phi sorority, I enjoy our sorority reunions so much. I went out for the varsity tennis, volleyball, and basketball teams and played four years of each sport.  I even played a couple of games as the field hockey goalie because they didn’t have enough players.  Back then, the gals who loved sports just played everything because it was so new to us to be able to play. I had great role models growing up in my physical education teachers which encouraged me to become one, too. So, it was wonderful to come to MHC and have even more role models in coaches like Rosie Sangid.”

After graduating MHC in 1972, Brenda went home to River Dell and applied for and accepted the physical education position at her alma mater high school. “I was also hired to coach basketball. I didn’t think I was knowledgeable enough to coach basketball but thought, ‘What the heck?! If I can work with these kids and coach a little, then I’ll do it.’  I coached the junior varsity basketball for two years.”

In the Spring of 1973, the River Dell Athletic Director asked Brenda if she would coach softball.  “It was a dream come true.  I didn’t know fast pitch softball, but I learned as I coached by going to seminars and clinics.  I was the head coach for the next twenty-five years.” She also coached volleyball for fourteen years, a program that she started at the school in 1975.

Between 1973 and 1997, Brenda led the Hawks softball teams to a total of 408 wins, nine league championships, five state sectional titles, one state title, and four county titles- the most coveted and difficult to achieve according to Brenda. She also received coach of the year honors seven times and was inducted into River Dell Hall of Fame and the New Jersey Hall of Fame for coaching.

“When I stepped down as the head coach of softball in 1997, I coached the junior varsity volleyball for 2 years, and volunteered as assistant softball coach the following year because those seniors were my players and I wanted to see them through.”  In 2005, Brenda retired from teaching but continued to assist coaching softball for another five years.

1972, Brenda’s first year teaching, was the year the Title IX law was enacted. When asked how the law challenged her position, she answered, “I didn’t consider it a big challenge because I was just out of college and a naive 22 years old. I was just thrilled to be able to coach and did it for $200 per season.  The changes came a little later. After teaching several years, the female coaches in the district worked together to fight for equal pay for coaches of women sports. We took it to court, and we won.  A salary guide was created for sports and the women were no longer left out.”

“When I watched sports in the 1990s and the Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup, I just watched with tears in my eyes, thrilled to know how far we had come. I would not have had the same opportunity when I was in high school. Just to know that I had a little part in building that, was really thrilling.”

On April 2, 2022, a grand celebration took place at the newly named River Dell High School Brenda Canal Softball field.  The celebration was organized by former players to honor Brenda’s years of service to her community. As part of the special day, a plaque was dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of Title IX. Brenda’s name is the first to be listed, but in the spirit of Title IX, there is room for more trailblazers to be honored in the future.

Tessa Klein, daughter of one of Brenda’s former softball players and reporter for the River Dell Middle School newspaper reported, “The movement to have the field named in her honor was led by Lindsay Davis Steffner, a former player and now Head Girls Basketball Coach at River Dell. When asked why she got this project going she said, “Coach Canal was my softball coach, and I learned a tremendous amount from her. She has been a mentor to me, and I wanted to follow in her footsteps and be a physical education teacher and coach. I wanted to get the project off the ground because I know Coach Canal was a pioneer, not only for the River Dell community but at the county level and the state level. I thought it was fitting to ask the Board of Education to honor Coach Canal by dedicating the softball field to her for all of her time, effort, and success she had on that diamond.’”

A plaque presented to Brenda by the River Dell Athletic Department and displayed in her home lists her accomplishments and reads, “Outstanding teacher. Outstanding coach. Outstanding friend”. It is obvious Brenda has many friends, and a special one she found during her time in Charleston.

Carol Alfano, Morris Harvey College class of ’71 and member of our Athletic Hall of Fame, is Brenda’s sorority sister. Carol brought the honor Brenda was given with the field naming to the alumni office’s attention. She had this to say about her long-time friend, “Brenda was a serious student and a terrific leader, she was president of Gamma Delta, but she also has this great sense of humor, always up for some late-night fun in the dorm.  One special memory is when Brenda, Adele Groom and I drove all the way to Kansas City to watch the men’s basketball team play in the NAIA Championships.  We drove straight through since we had no money. We got there to watch them play the first round, lose, and turn around and drove back home!!  It was a great trip – we ate peanut butter crackers and drank cokes. We also spent many Friday afternoons at the infamous Anchor eating pizza, drinking beer, and playing pinball!  Afterwards we would walk back to campus and watch the free movie in the auditorium.  Those were the best times!!!”

Congratulations, Brenda, on a tremendous career and your 50th Golden Eagle Reunion!