Observations and Punditry
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
By Woody Peele
A man worth remembering
Over the years that I covered East
Carolina University, I got to know a couple of “giants” who left behind
them a legacy unmatched by anyone else I have known. They are Dr. Leo
Jenkins and W.M. “Booger” Scales.
With Dr. Jenkins leading the way, East
Carolina grew from a small teaching college to the strong university it
is today, complete with an outstanding medical school and an athletic
program, the likes of which no one had previously dared dream.
Booger Scales was a tireless worker as a
“pitch man” for the school and was instrumental in many, many other fine
endeavors for the betterment of not only ECU but also Greenville and
Pitt County. Behind his pushes, many projects across the area were
funded and built.
Both are gone now, but the memory of their
efforts will long be remembered.
Now, another has joined them in leaving a
lasting impression on East Carolina and the area. Keith LeClair, one of
the finest men I’ve ever known, passed away on Monday, ending a long,
long battle with ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
LeClair came to Greenville 10 years ago to
replace Gary Overton as head baseball coach at ECU. His goal, he
announced at his first appearance on campus, was to guide the program to
Omaha and the College World Series.
In his brief tenure as head coach, LeClair
came close. After his first year, his teams reached the regionals in
each of the following years, and advanced to one super regional. In
each, the Pirates came close, but were denied.
Coming up just a bit short of the coveted
CWS berth didn’t dull the response of the fans, and it didn’t stop
LeClair from believing that it could be done. I believe it was quite
likely that, had his health held up, the goal would have been
Early on, I’d been warned by an anonymous
caller that LeClair was a “hot-head” who would embarrass ECU. It must
have been someone who really didn’t know the real Keith LeClair.
Always a gentleman, LeClair was soft
spoken in interviews and in normal conversation. Oh, he could yell where
there was reason, but he preferred to use normal tones most of the time.
Even when things went wrong on the field,
LeClair usually came up with some positives when he spoke to the media
following a game.
Then came the rumors. LeClair might be
suffering from ALS. It began as a tingling in his arm. Then, it was
revealed that a number of members of the extended LeClair family had had
the disease, too.
In our first interview about the
situation, LeClair sat in his office and admitted that it was a
possibility, but he was still in the denial phase. The doctors, he said,
weren’t sure that ALS was the problem; it could be something else.
But as time moved on, it became a
certainty that ALS was the culprit, and it began to steal away LeClair’s
voice and movement. He gave up the field duties for the 2002 season to
assistant coach Kevin McMullen. As his voice became more slurred, Keith
used notes passed to Kevin or to a player to convey his immense baseball
The last time Keith spoke around me was in
the hall of Scales Fieldhouse following a game that season. His ability
to form words was so far gone that I understood little of what he said.
It broke my heart to see such a fine young
man, whose mind remained sharp as a tack, reduced to this.
It didn’t take long for the disease to
work its destruction. More and more of his body became immobile. Soon,
the only way he could communicate was through a computer that read his
With the quick progress of the disease,
many people believed that Keith would be gone from us in a matter on
They hadn’t recognized his courage and his
Keith always believed that God would carry
him through for as long as he was needed on this earth, or would provide
a cure for the disease. While no cure as been found, there is no
question that God’s purposes for Keith LeClair’s life have been
Godspeed, my friend. You are a man among
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Dig into Woody Peele's Bonesville
02/23/2007 02:44:27 PM