Insights and Observations
Monday, July 24, 2006
By Henry Hinton
Our inheritance from Coach:
life lessons, memories
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Death can be cruel.
Sometimes it can be kind. One could make a case for both where Keith LeClair
is concerned. Coach LeClair was much too young to leave us but it seems the
time had come for his suffering to end.
The last time I saw him
was in the narthex of Oakmont Baptist Church, the very church that was the
site of his memorial service, on Father’s Day of this year — just about a
His beautiful daughter
Audrey sang in church that day. It was a song about faith and the
relationship of a father and his children. Coach LeClair, his wife Lynn and
their son J.D. sat together in the sanctuary as Audrey sang the song.
Where did she get the
I was just one of many
who could not restrain the tears as that beautiful child sang to her father.
It was just one of many, many, many shows of strength from that family the
last four years.
Lynn LeClair is a saint —
pure and simple. No one can know her pain and the amazing way she dealt with
the ultimate sacrifices. Her love and devotion to Coach was simply the most
incredible thing I have ever witnessed.
After the service I made
a point to see Coach before he left. I knew what he was thinking and wanted
to say to me but I also knew there would be no words. It had been a long
time since he could make his feelings known simply by speaking the words.
In this particular case
words were not needed. I told him how beautifully Audrey had sung and how
great it was to see him out at church.
The truth is that my
heart was breaking watching my friend near death and unable to respond.
Gone were the days of
joking around at dinner after an East Carolina game on the road. Gone were
the conversations about life and families that we shared — Coach almost
never wanted to talk baseball off the field.
Even gone were the
conversations in his home with him continuing to joke around with his
eye-gaze computer. During the time he used that amazing piece of technology
to communicate, it was easy for me to tell that the Keith I knew and loved
was still there — still mentally the same jocular guy.
Visits to his home would
result in a sense that he was “alright” and I should stop worrying and
feeling so guilty about his situation.
However, the cruel
disease would eventually take away even the computer. His eyes continued to
fail to the point he could no longer use the technology, making
communication extremely difficult.
An old fashioned letter
board was all that was left and even that was such a chore for him that
visits became difficult.
Prior to the 1999
baseball season, my receptionist made me aware that I had a visitor in the
lobby of the radio station. “Coach LeClair is up here and wants to know if
you have a minute,” she said on the intercom.
I didn’t know him that
well at the time — just a few comments here and there at the ballpark or at
“Sure,” I said. “Tell him
to come on back to the office.”
After a bit of small
talk, Coach LeClair said to me “I need something from you.”
“Sure. What can I do for
“I need a bigger
commitment from you to carry more games on the radio,” said Coach LeClair.
“At Western (Carolina) we had about 25 games a year on the air and it really
helped build excitement.”
The first thing that went
through my mind was “Oh, no. How can we carry more than the 10 or so games
that we do now. We already lose money on it and no one really wants to
listen to college baseball on the radio.”
I started to explain the
economics of radio to Coach and he immediately stopped me.
“We’re going to be pretty
good this year," he said. "We have some real talent now and I promise you we
are going to build a program here. I need your help. We need to get people
I don’t know why I said
yes to Coach LeClair that day. I think it was probably just because I liked
the guy. I was hoping he was right — that he was going to build a program.
But, honestly, I didn’t know what to expect.
However, he took the time
to come to my office to ask for help and I wasn’t going to turn him down.
That year we scheduled
about 25 games to air, mostly away games. In fact, I liked Coach LeClair so
much that I made the commitment to do the play-by-play of most of the games
along with former ECU baseball player Jake Jacobs.
Then, as all Pirates
know, the magical year began.
The 1999 season
culminated with the team winning the CAA title and accepting the school’s
first ever number one seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
I will forever believe
that the 11-10 win at LSU in the regionals is the single best sporting event
I’ve ever seen. I will never forget the exuberance of the players, ECU fans
and administrators and the pure shock of the Tiger fans in Alex Box Stadium.
It was that weekend that
the idea of a new baseball stadium was born. At dinner that night Coach
LeClair said to then-athletic director Mike Hamrick: “We have to build a new
stadium for this program. Coming here as a number one seed just isn’t
That season and the next
few I became close to Coach LeClair and his staff. The chemistry of the
coaches and players was rare. It was a true family and they always made Jake
and I feel a part of it on the road.
I looked forward to late
night dinners with the coaches or chats in motels on the road. It was a
great time and the Pirates were winning. That made it even sweeter for
This week I have had the
chance to relive some of those memories with past players and coaches.
There were a lot of
contributors but there was one leader.
I have my own memories of
the man that I will always cherish. Listening to others at the funeral and
the stadium event on Friday evening made me realize that Coach made us all
feel special — like we were the closest of friends to him.
I’m not sure I have ever
known anyone who touched as many people in such a positive way.
We miss you Coach. But we
will never forget you.
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This page updated
04/21/08 07:01 PM.