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LeClair leaves sweeping legacy

Other Stories on Keith LeClair's Passing
Al Myatt: LeClair leaves sweeping legacy

Brian Bailey: Coach's impact will endure
Woody Peele: A man worth remembering

By Al Myatt

Information from contributed to this report.

Former East Carolina baseball coach Keith LeClair, 40, died Monday but his legend will live on as the Pirates play in a $10 million stadium named in his honor and pursue the College World Series berth he felt the program was destined to achieve.

The New Hampshire native succumbed at his Greenville residence following an extended battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.

During his collegiate baseball career as a player, assistant coach and head coach at Western Carolina and East Carolina, LeClair was a part of 13 NCAA Tournament teams and earned five conference coach-of-the-year awards.

It was his dream and goal for East Carolina to go to the College World Series in Omaha. Rather than retire his jersey, the Pirate program has chosen to let a player who manifests LeClair's qualities wear his No. 23 each season for the last several seasons.

LeClair contributed many columns to the Bonesville website after leaving coaching but discontinued his sports writing as his health declined in order to devote more time and energy to his family and Christian witness.

LeClair said his illness changed his priorities in life and brought him closer to the Lord. His inner strength became a source of inspiration for those who knew and respected him. ECU won the C-USA Tournament at Grainger Stadium in Kinston in 2002 with LeClair watching in a blue van adjacent to the right field foul line.

The Pirate players doused the van with Gatorade after earning another berth in the NCAA Tournament. It was a touching scene. ECU had finished sixth in the league standings that season and likely would not have made the NCAA field without winning the league tournament.

Former East Carolina athletic director Mike Hamrick brought LeClair to Greenville to replace Gary Overton, an ECU baseball coaching legend in his own right.

"I would go by his house to cheer him up and would actually leave with him having made me feel better," Hamrick said. "He had a remarkable outlook that made you put what you might consider to be difficulties in your own life into proper perspective."

The search and interviews process that produced LeClair as the candidate recommended to Hamrick was conducted by iconic ECU administrator, coach and athlete Henry VanSant, who told Bonesville writer Ron Cherubini for a story in 2003 that his involvement in bringing LeClair to Greenville was an unforgettable experience. VanSant himself passed away last March.

Although he was unable to be actively involved in many games in his final season, LeClair officially relinquished his coaching duties at ECU on June 19, 2002, two weeks after the Pirates earned their fourth consecutive NCAA regional appearance and finished the season with a 43-20-1 record. LeClair remained a special consultant to the ECU athletic director.

LeClair spoke candidly with Bonesville writer Denny O'Brien prior to that 2002 season about life, religion and Omaha. His faith, he said, guided his approach to all challenges.

The funeral service will be held on Friday, July 21 at 2:00 p.m. at Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville. The family will receive friends on Thursday evening between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. at S.G. Wilkerson and Sons Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the ALS Foundation, SPORTworks Ministry and The Pirate Club.

"Keith LeClair and his approach to life touched so many people in this community while providing inspiration for all who had the good fortune to meet and know him," said Terry Holland, ECU athletic director. "His legacy in Pirate Athletics is unmatched and his good counsel will be sorely missed in our daily lives.

"His dignified approach to whatever life brought him provides a model for every human being and particularly those of us who work with the young men and women who are this nation's future. He has enriched ECU Athletics in many significant ways but most importantly by bringing Lynn, J.D. and Audrey into the Pirate Family."

LeClair became the second-winningest baseball coach in ECU history, behind Overton, in just five seasons, compiling a 212-96-1 (.688) record. He also led the Pirates to four straight NCAA regional appearances, three Colonial Athletic Association championships and one Conference USA title.

His 2001 club advanced to the NCAA super regionals and finished with a No. 11 national ranking after registering a 47-13 mark. His final squad was ranked in the Top 25 polls for much of the season, swept through the C-USA Tournament and won a pair of games at the Clemson Regional.

He won the American Baseball Coaches Association's East Region Coach-of-the-Year award in both 1999 and 2001.

LeClair played an integral role for fundraising efforts that led to the eventual construction of a new, state-of-the-art baseball stadium on the ECU campus. His dreams were realized in the spring of 2005 when 3,000-seat Clark-LeClair Stadium opened March 4 and the Pirates capped off the ceremony by defeating Michigan 2-1.

"Keith represents the true spirit of ECU athletics," said ECU chancellor Dr. Steve Ballard. "He taught us all to dream big dreams and make them come true. He was a close friend and trusted adviser, and he was the best possible model of someone who puts ECU first."

LeClair arrived at East Carolina in the summer of 1997 after six seasons at the helm of his alma mater, Western Carolina. At WCU, he had a 229-135-2 (.628) record while winning four Southern Conference championships and advancing to NCAA regional play on four occasions.

As a player at Western Carolina under current Clemson head coach Jack Leggett, LeClair was an All-Southern Conference selection in 1988 while earning SoCon Tournament MVP honors the same season. The former walk-on also established Catamount records for hits and total bases in a season.

LeClair signed with the Atlanta Braves after completing his collegiate career and spent the summer of 1988 as an outfielder for Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League. After a spring training stint with the San Francisco Giants in 1989, he was offered a student assistant coaching position at Western Carolina, which led to full-time responsibilities shortly thereafter.

He was inducted into the East Carolina and Western Carolina athletic hall of fames in the fall of 2002 and was honored as the first recipient of the Conference USA Student-Athlete Advisory Committee's (SAAC) Coaches Choice Award. In addition, the Conference USA Baseball Coach of the Year Award is named in his honor.

"Coach LeClair is special to East Carolina baseball," head baseball coach Billy Godwin said. "He was a winner on and off the field, which is evident by the many lives he touched. His legacy in ECU baseball history will live forever. The LeClair family is in my prayers. We are all better people for having known Keith LeClair."

LeClair is survived by his wife, Lynn, two children, Audrey and J.D., and his father and mother, Andy and Doris LeClair, of Walpole, NH.

©2006 All rights rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. A release from the East Carolina Athletics Media Relation Office and material from contributed to this report.

02/23/2007 11:24:49 AM


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