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Hall of Fame moment bigger than sports

Keith LeClair  congratulates a player during East Carolina's run to an NCAA regional championship in Wilson during the 2001 season.  (AP Archives File Photo)

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When Keith LeClair was inducted into the East Carolina athletic hall of fame, it was one of those rare occasions when hearts were moved, minds were inspired and faith in the human spirit — and in a higher power — was rejuvenated...

He was awarded ECU's high honor for its sports heroes on Friday night, Oct. 18, in the Harvey banquet room of the Murphy Center.

LeClair was one of six inductees this year. The incoming hall of fame class also included Theodore “Blue” Edwards (men’s basketball, 1987, 1989), George Koonce (football, 1989-90), Jim Meads (swimming, 1956-60), Ray Scharf (swimming coach, 1967-82) and Milt Sherman (wrestling, 1972-74).

Edwards averaged 26.7 points for the Pirates in the 1988-89 season and went on to play 10 seasons in the NBA. Koonce led ECU in tackles for loss in 1990 and spent nine seasons in the NFL. Meads helped ECU to its first national title in a team sport, the NAIA swimming championship in 1957 and helped the Pirates accomplish the feat again in 1959. Scharf’s teams won 11 straight Southern Conference championships. Sherman compiled a career record of 101-13-1 and was All American in 1975.

LeClair was baseball coach of the Pirates for five seasons from 1998 to 2002 and compiled an outstanding won-lost record of 212-96-1. His ECU teams reached the NCAA Tournament the last four seasons, including three times as a No. 1 regional seed. In 2002, ECU qualified as Conference USA champions.

LeClair resigned his duties following the 2002 season because of health considerations and was replaced by his former ECU assistant, Randy Mazey, who has maintained the program’s goal of reaching the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. LeClair now serves as a special assistant to athletic director Mike Hamrick.

For his induction speech, LeClair composed remarks that were read by Chuck Young of Sports Works ministries. LeClair was present and received a prolonged standing ovation from the packed hall when his hall of fame plaque was unveiled.

The text of LeClair’s remarks at his enshrinement:

First and foremost I want to praise God for this opportunity to be inducted in the East Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. I certainly wish it were under different circumstances, but just the same I am tremendously honored to be recognized with all the great athletes, coaches and supporters of ECU Athletics. I can’t say that I am deserving of such an honor after only five years in the program, but I certainly think the teams I was blessed to coach are. So on behalf of my coaches, players and managers I accept this induction into the East Carolina University Hall of Fame. Without the sacrifice of these young men and coaches that worked and played for me the past five seasons this night would never have occurred. I believe as a head coach whenever you are honored, you’re really honoring the teams you coached. I want you guys to know I love you and will forever remember the memories you brought to me.

With any honor there are people to thank and I would like to mention just a few. I want to thank the Hall of Fame committee that thought enough of our teams to include me into such a prestigious group. Thank you. I would like to thank Mike Hamrick and Henry VanSant for giving me a chance to be a part of such a great baseball tradition and more importantly part of the Pirate family. This is a special place with special people like no other in the country. I would like to recognize my wife who has been a part of every win and every loss in my coaching career. I know she thanks God there were more wins than losses. I don’t think people on the outside understand how difficult it is to be a coach’s wife. Having to spend a lot of days and nights alone raising two kids is not easy. I have a much better perspective on what Lynn went through now that I am confined to staying mostly at one place. I know I have been successful because I was blessed to have a wife that allowed me to do my job. Lynn, thanks for taking care of me all these years, especially this past year and I want you to know how much I appreciate what you have done and I love you.

I also would like to recognize my parents who are here tonight and let them know how much I appreciate what they have done for me over the years and molding me into the person I am today. Thanks and I love you.

One other person I would like to recognize who has been a special friend to me over the past five years is Coach (George) Whitfield. Only Coach Whit and Tommy Eason were with me from the start. Coach Whit is the most giving and caring person I have ever met. I am a better man from knowing you. Thanks Whit for all you have done.

I was told I only had 3 to 5 minutes to speak, but since I can’t speak I guess you can’t blame me. So on I go.

You all know what my family and I have been through over the last year and I would like to share some of the past year with you. Many people ask my wife and I how we are doing almost daily. I can’t lie to you and say every day has been great because it hasn’t. I had bad days when I could walk and talk so I think I am entitled to a bad one every now and then. What I want to share with you is the blessings my family and I have witnessed over the past year in the midst of what most people would consider a disaster.

Most people look at me on the outside and see somebody who can’t walk, talk, eat or do anything for himself. But what most people don’t see is the inside. I am still the same person in a lot of ways. I still coach 3 football games on Saturday, I coached the divisional baseball playoff games and the great part about it is I never lost a game. So you see I am the same person mentally that I was 5 years ago. I just have a better won-loss record. All jokes aside, 5 years ago I believe God called me here to Greenville to coach, which I did to the best of my ability. A year ago I believe He called me out of coaching to be a witness for Him. The past year I have been allowed to share my faith and play a different role in people’s lives other than winning games, but rather the game of life. People look around in today’s society and are scared. We have terrorists in our country, the fear of snipers, the threat of war. Nobody knows what tomorrow brings. James 4:14 says, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” I can tell you that first hand. I went from 2 games from Omaha to having a doctor tell me you have no hope to live. I beg to differ on that opinion because as long as I have a breath I have a hope and It’s not the treasures I can store up but the treasures I can give others. Dave Dravecky, a major league pitcher who lost his throwing arm to cancer put it best when he said, “The worth of a man is not what you do for yourself but what you do for others.”

The Pirate family has blessed my family so much through your giving and support over the past year. Lynn and I can’t thank you enough for what you have done. I just hope that you will be thanked with a trip to Omaha and a brand new stadium that you all deserve. A first-class facility for first class fans.

I love you and it’s an honor to be part of your family and your Hall of Fame. The late Jimmy Valvano said, “Don’t ever give up.” Sorry, I forgot he was the N.C. State coach.

May God bless you all.

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02/23/2007 11:21 AM

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