Miami Herald | by Andre C. Fernandez | March 6, 2021
Pamela McDonald remembers a time when people didn’t acknowledge her as the coach of the boys’ soccer team at Doral Academy because she was a woman.
“The most adversity I got was actually from other coaches and referees,” McDonald said. “They’d pass by me sometimes before games not thinking I was the head coach. But you know how it is, I built a reputation and then people started knowing that I knew my stuff.”
Over a decade later, McDonald has left her days of being overlooked far behind.
On Saturday night — 13 years after she became Doral’s boys’ soccer coach — McDonald and the Firebirds made history together as the school won its first state championship in the sport with a 2-1 victory over Niceville in the Class 6A final at Spec Martin Stadium.
McDonald, a former four-year player at Barry University and former player on the Scottish national team, became the first woman to coach a boys’ soccer team to a state championship in the 44-year history of the FHSAA state soccer series.
“She’s been my coach since I was in middle school, in seventh grade, and we feel great for her,” said Doral junior forward Manuel Calvo. “That’s amazing that she’s the first. It was all for her. She’s so dedicated and does so much for us.”
Calvo secured Doral’s milestone victory by scoring the game-winning goal with 3:35 remaining in regulation.
On a rush toward Niceville’s goalkeeper Garrett McClay, Calvo got to the ball first and tapped it away from his reach then chased it down and crossed it into an empty net.
Calvo disappeared under a sea of red jerseys seconds later when his teammates all jumped on top of him.
Doral goalie Giorgio Rubiano then made the last of his six saves to help the Firebirds (11-1-3) finish off the defending state champion Eagles (13-7-1).
“It was amazing. I saw everyone screaming at me telling me they love me,” Calvo said. “It was crazy.”
Doral outshot Niceville 15-9, but had two early chances hit the crossbar and others missed the mark until senior forward Enzo Traini kicked in a deflected cross from the top of the box on another pressure in tight with 4:41 left in the first half.
Niceville tied the match at 1-1 in the 64th minute when off a long throw-in, Michael O’Leary just got enough to sneak the ball in just inside the post.
But the Firebirds would persevere thanks to Calvo’s late heroics.
“It’s been unbelievable,” McDonald said. “I felt like we dominated the whole game, but they came back and they tied it and had that energy. I kept wondering, ‘Do my guys have anything left?’ They played through four games of overtime or shootouts in the playoffs. And we came up huge. The resilience and hard work they put in was unbelievable.”
As McDonald celebrated with her players on the field postgame, Doral’s principal Carlos Ferralls shouted nearby: “Best coach in the nation, right there!”
After graduating from St. Ambrose High in Glasgow, Scotland, McDonald had five caps for the Scottish national team playing in World Cup qualifying matches and also had 13 caps for the Scottish Under-21 squad. She was then offered a scholarship to Barry before becoming a high school coach.
McDonald, 47, has led Doral to four district titles and two state appearances during her tenure coaching the boys, which began after a four-year stint as the school’s girls’ coach.
“It was actually my athletic director at the time that suggested it,” McDonald said. “I was a little disillusioned coaching the girls at the time, and I had just come from playing soccer at a high level in college.
“You know how it is, I built a reputation over time and then people started knowing that I knew my stuff. You build that respect and these guys, I work them as hard as any coach they’ve ever played for so you get the respect of your players.”
Photo: Pamela McDonald and the Firebirds made history together as the school won its first state championship in the sport with a 2-1 victory over Niceville in the Class 6A final at Spec Martin Stadium. ANDRE FERNANDEZ FOR THE MIAMI HERALD