By: Lee Anna Osei, BCCA
A Multi-sport Athlete
Tara Mrakic has never had to try hard to stand out. Adopted by white European parents as a baby, Mrakic began her athletic career in volleyball and baseball. She was often the only female and one of few black athletes in the space. As a senior in high school, Mrakic was approached by a flag football coach who stopped her and commented, “You look athletic! Have you ever played flag football?” The rest was history – Mrakic quickly fell in love with the game and spent her college career at Vanier College, learning and eventually excelling in the game. In both her junior and senior years, Mrakic was named MVP and Co-MVP as a quarterback, an honour that spoke to her elite level of play on the field.
Transitioning to Coaching
Following her playing career, Mrakic was not ready to step away from the game, and quickly transitioned into coaching, holding a part-time position alongside her former head coach at Vanier College. Responsibilities at home and with work caused Mrakic to walk away from coaching, and in 2009 Vanier had folded its team. Mrakic, however, remained in touch with the Athletic Director, hinting that if the Head coaching position ever did become available, she wanted an opportunity to represent the Cheetahs again.
In 2011 Mrakic received the opportunity she was waiting for, and was appointed the Head Coach of Women’s Flag Football at Vanier College and she soon hired her former coach as her Assistant. “I felt a deep sense of respect and loyalty to the man that had taught me so much about the game.” Since Mrakic’s appointment, Vanier has risen to a powerhouse for women’s flag football in Canada. After going 2-9 in her first season at the helm, Mrakic led her team to a 2012 RSEQ Regional Championship for Women’s Flag football.
Under Mrakic’s tenure, Vanier was also able to accomplish completing a perfect regular season, and make several conference final appearances. Mrakic is a 3 Time Winner of RSEQ Coach of the Year (2014, 2015, 2018). Mrakic also officiates in The Flag Football Plus League, and was named the Leader of The Herd Award in 2019 as a standout official.
Being a Black Female Off and On The Field
Mrakic’s journey has not been solely defined by awards and accolades. Having been born and raised in Quebec, for as long as she can remember she’s experienced various forms of racism as a black female.
“I remember when I was growing up, I would try everything to avoid being seen in public with my parents. There were always stares and accompanying confusing looks. I would often make excuses to stay home…It has only been in my latter years of really growing and accepting myself that I began to worry less about what people thought of me.”
Still, the everyday aspect of her blackness is something she deals with.
“I remember taking my father – who is now a senior – to the bank to help him with his affairs. The bank teller candidly began addressing me as his aid. It took both my father and I to inform her she was inaccurate in her assumption..she was embarrassed and immediately apologized.”
Mrakic is a champion for gender diversity and equity. She is currently the only Black female Head Coach for Women’s Flag Football in Canada, and having never had a black female coach herself as an athlete, Mrakic wants to inspire young women of colour to dream big and bold as sport coaches. Vanier College also boasts an all-black staff, which Mrakic cites as a way to provide opportunities for advancement to aspiring coaches from diverse backgrounds.
“I was fortunate enough to recruit the first muslim female athlete to compete with a hijab at Vanier College…each year we remain one of the most diverse teams, something that I have been proud to note.”
Mrakic feels there is a need for education for sport coaches.
“Some coaches feel no way to talk and say ‘la noir’ or ‘the black girl’ when referring to my athletes.” She adds, “can she not be referred to as #5 or her name? I don’t think people realize how some of the things they say can be taken as offensive.” Mrakic notes that in the past she’d hesitated to to interject and tell coaches how inappropriate comments referring to players may be. “I feel like as a coach you get those comments and you let them roll because you heard them for so many years that they’ve become normalized, but it’s y responsibility to speak up now.” Mrakic adds, “it is always tough because I’ve always been harder on my black athletes simply because when the are acting out of turn or being disrespectful I really need to reign them in quickly because I know what other people are thinking- having been in that situation over the years.”
When asked what should be done to advance Flag football in Canada Mrakic stated,
“Well, I think first off equity advancements in general. Flag football needs to be recognized, and pushed forward to the next level at Canadian universities. I believe a lot of athletes would rejoice in being able to play flag football at the university level. I think there is a lot of talent across the country and there needs to be a more exposure to the game.” Mrakic also believes in flag football as a natural gateway for higher participation in sport. “It is a solution, in my opinion, for female retention and engagement in sport as players are less susceptible to serious injuries in flag than they are in tackle football. It is also extremely accessible and feasible for participants, and not just for young women, flag is played by masters athletes, men and even young boys.” Mrakin concluded, “Flag football leagues are starting younger and younger and I believe will play a role in the sports popularity and growth across Canada.”
Mrakic sees herself as far from complete in her journey as a trailblazer in Canadian sport. Her dream is to coach flag football at the university level, though the sport has yet to be formally recognized at the U Sports level . Mrakic also cites the BCCA’s Black Female Coach Mentorship Program as an opportunity that has reignited her passion to give back to women in sport. “I want to thank the BCCA for the opportunity to provide me with an additional purpose for coaching, for mentorship, leadership and for change and making a difference for these young black girls that have no idea what real life has in store for them.” I am honoured to continue to lead by example.
Mrakic considers herself a female who has been stuck in a male dominated milieu all her life, playing baseball, volleyball, and now officiating and coaching flag football. She envisions a future of Canadian sport that is as diverse in gender as it is in race.
“A special thanks to my wife Jessica Legere for her continued support year after year in keeping our family strong and bringing our boys to see their mommy in action!”
For her commitment to leadership and growing flag football in our country for nearly 30 years, Tara Mrakic is a trailblazer of Canadian heritage, and a Leader Through Sport.