Somewhere along his life-long journey with volleyball, the CapU coach lost touch with his roots
Justin Scott // Managing Editor
Hailing from Cameroon, Emmanuel Denguessi couldn’t have predicted a future coaching volleyball at a Canadian university. However, after developing a passion for the sport at a young age and a series of life-changing decisions, Denguessi now finds himself three years into a head coaching role at Capilano University, even claiming this year’s Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST) Coach of the Year award.
However, while Denguessi has seen major success in the volleyball world throughout his life, the past decade or so, has been interesting for him off the court as well. “I think over the past 10 or 14 years I went through what I would call an identity crisis with defining who I am as a person,” he said. After coming to Canada and eventually going to school and continuing to play competitive volleyball, Denguessi had started to disassociate from his roots. “I believe that one needs to understand the context in which he lives in order to have a fulfilling life,” he said.
Volleyball has always been more than just a passion for Denguessi. From a young age, he knew that playing the game was a necessity. “I come from a poor family,” he said. “Volleyball was the outlet for higher social economical status there [in Cameroon]. So, at a very early age, I had to make the choice between education and being fed and helping my mother to feed my little brother. So, I chose volleyball.” Denguessi ended up playing on a club team and joining the military where he also played. As much as he was young and had few other choices, Denguessi was also prepared for the challenge ahead.
“I remember, at 13, I had already the skill and I was developing the strength,” he said. Although Denguessi valued education, his father had passed away and he knew he needed to help his mother take care of their family, so he used his talents to help put food on the table. “In Cameroon, when you play for a club, they give you a little bit of money. It’s not significant, but it paid.”
Over time Denguessi continued to work and hone his skills, finding more and more success on the court. Eventually, he became a member of the Cameroonian national team and in 2001 they won the African Nation Cup. He went on to play for the Olympic team and received accolades and awards from various international competitions, but at a certain point asked himself a question. “At the age of 24 I came to a point where I was asking an important question, ‘what will life look like for me in the next 20 years?’ and Cameroon wasn’t providing the answer,” he said.
So, he packed his bags and moved to Montreal where he lived for three years. Although he wasn’t playing competitively, Denguessi continued playing recreational volleyball and did something even bigger than sport – he learned about himself. “After threes years in Montreal, really finding who I am, I decided to pursue education and that’s how I landed in British Columbia,” he recalled.
As Cameroon is a primarily French speaking nation, Denguessi was fluent in French but not English, so he was offered an ESL scholarship at CapU, where he played for one year from 2007-08 when he was named the PACWEST Rookie of the Year and a First Team All-Star. After that he transferred to Columbia Bible College (CBC) where he continued to bolster his resume. The CBC Bearcats ended up winning the PACWEST provincials in 2011 and then the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA)’s national tournament as well, where Denguessi was named a tournament All-Star. Throughout his PACWEST career, Denguessi was also named a CCAA Academic All-Canadian and CCAA National Scholar.
He then graduated from CBC with a Bachelor in Counselling and Diploma in Theological Studies.
Once his PACWEST playing days were over, Denguessi began coaching at various clubs around the lower mainland until 2013 when he became the Assistant Coach back at CBC. After that season however, he was offered a position he couldn’t refuse – Head Coach of the Capilano Blues men’s volleyball team.
With his professional life going well, Denguessi realized that he needed to address his personal life. When he looked back at the past decade or so, he realized that he had been so focused on being a Canadian, he had lost some of his Cameroonian identity. “Those 10 or 13 years were a part of that journey, which makes the people in Canada who they are. I think education is a great outlet, social activities and social inclusion also. So, because I believe in that, I think at some point I lost myself into that, so I started to de-appreciate my roots,” he said. Mindful of this, Denguessi started re-focusing on his heritage. One way in which he did this was through his clothing. His family will order clothes from Africa or bring them back when they visit and use their attire as a constant reminder of their heritage. “That’s kind of a reminder to me of my roots and my identity,” he said. “And I think I’m in a space of my life where I’m exploring that again and what does it mean to express my African heritage, while appreciating my new identity as a Canadian.” He also joined the Association of Cameroonians in British Columbia, where he was the president from 2014-15.
Denguessi is also conscious of assuring his young son is also aware of his heritage. Be it the clothes he wears or the francophone school in which he attends, Denguessi is making efforts to ensure that the Cameroonian culture is a part of his son’s life. “That will at a certain point provoke conversation,” he said. “‘Dad, why did you send me to a French school?’ and, that’s a connector to where I come from.”
His journey to reconnect with his culture has also allowed Denguessi to learn lessons that transcend heritage. “I find that integrity is the key to all because integrity allows you to be able to be truthful, to all the circumstances and the people around you,” he said. “If you are a man or a woman of integrity, you can live in Cameroon and appreciate the fullness of who you have become, while not compromising the values that you hold dear. You can live in Canada and live the fullness of the Canadian life without compromising who you are as a person. So, a journey I’m on is how do I live a life of integrity so that I take advantage of what I can offer to the society and what the society can offer me? Sports is one of those vehicles.”