LeClair leaves sweeping legacy
ecupirates.com contributed to this
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
ecupirates.com contributed to this
02/23/2007 11:24:49 AM