July 17, 2006
Greenville, N.C. - Keith LeClair, a Western Carolina Hall of Fame player and coach, died at his home Monday following an extended illness. LeClair, 40, had been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly referred to as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, for the past five years.
The LeClair family will receive friends this Thursday evening between 5-8:00 pm at S.G. Wilkerson and Sons Funeral Home (on 5th street in Greenville, N.C.). The funeral service will be held Friday, July 21 at 2:00 pm at Oakmont Baptist Church (on Red Banks Road in Greenville). In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the ALS Foundation, SPORTworks Ministry and The Pirate Club. Please check back with catamountsports.com for more information that may become available throughout the week. The East Carolina Department of Athletics has a tribute and a place to send you thoughts/condolences to the LeClair family on its website. You may access it by clicking here.
"Keith was like a son, brother, and best friend to me. He's a person who I learned a lot more from than he ever learned from me. He's a tremendous credit to coaching, and all those that he had a chance to touch are better off for it. Keith was a very special person who understood the balance between hard work, being physically and mentally tough, and being a great competitor. He was that way as a player and as a coach. Everyone who played with him, for him, or coached alongside him has nothing but the ultimate respect for him. Every time we played his teams, they were amongst the best coached, toughest, and most aggressive teams that we played all year long, and that was a direct reflection what he was all about. Keith certainly left the world a better place and everyone who knew him is better off for it. He touched me and so many others in countless ways. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, and hope they can find strength in the fact that he was a great husband, father, and son. He will be missed by us all."
Jack Leggett, former Western Carolina and current Clemson head baseball coach.
"Obviously this is a tremendous loss for a lot of people; his family being number one," said former teammate and current Western Carolina head baseball coach Todd Raleigh, who worked as an assistant under LeClair both at Western Carolina and East Carolina. "He left a legacy at Western Carolina and East Carolina that will never be forgotten.
"He will most be remembered for the lives he has touched. I was his teammate, his assistant coach and friend so I know first hand just how many lives he affected in a positive way. Not only did he get me into coaching, but you can look all around the country at his former players who are now coaching.
"Most people are defined by what they do in terms of wins, honors, accomplishments and things like that. Keith is defined by the way he lived his life. He put his family and religion first and did everything else after that the right way."
During his collegiate baseball career as a player, assistant coach and head coach at both Western Carolina and East Carolina, LeClair was a part of 13 NCAA Tournament teams and earned five conference coach-of-the-year awards. This past April 11, LeClair and his family returned to Cullowhee as the WCU Department of Athletics retired his number 23, marking the first time the Catamount baseball program had ever bestowed such an honor.
"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," ECU Director of Athletics Terry Holland said. "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."
LeClair came to Western in 1985 and helped lead the Catamounts to four consecutive Southern Conference Championships. He ranks among the top 10 in six different WCU hitting categories. Most notably, he batted .423 in 1988, which ranks seventh on the WCU single-season list, while his career .375 batting average ranks fourth on the WCU all-time list. In 1988, he was named MVP of the Southern Conference Tournament, as well as being a first team All-SoCon selection. Also during the 1988 season, he established a school record with 101 hits, which ranked fourth in the NCAA that season, and 179 total bases.
After his playing days, he signed as a free agent with the Atlanta Braves organization, playing the 1988 season for Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League. In 1989, after spending spring training with the San Francisco Giants organization, he returned to Cullowhee as an assistant coach on Jack Leggett's Catamount staff, a position he held for three seasons.
In 1992, when Leggett left to become assistant head coach at Clemson, LeClair became the Catamounts' head coach at the age of 25, making him one of, if not the, youngest head coaches in the nation. During that 1992 season, he led the Catamounts to the Southern Conference regular season and tournament championships. The team advanced to the NCAA tournament, reaching the championship game at the South II Regional and getting to within one out of advancing to the College World Series. The 1992 team tallied 44 wins and a final national ranking on 17th. His 1994 team posted a school-record 45 wins and earned the school's first ever, at-large bid to the NCAA postseason. In his six seasons at Western Carolina he posted a record of 229-135-2, led WCU to four NCAA Tournament berths and was SoCon Coach of the Year in 1992, '94 and '97.
LeClair became the second-winningest baseball coach in school history in just five seasons at East Carolina, 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 officially relinquished his coaching duties at East Carolina on June 19, 2002, two weeks after leading the Pirates to their fourth consecutive NCAA Regional appearance before finishing with a 43-20-1 record. LeClair remained with the ECU Department of Athletics as a special assistant to the director of athletics until the time of his death.
In addition, LeClair played an integral role for fundraising efforts and eventual construction of a new, state-of-the-art baseball stadium on the ECU campus. His dreams were realized last spring when 3,000-seat Clark-LeClair Stadium opened March 4 and the Pirates capped off the ceremony by defeating Michigan 2-1.
He was inducted into both the East Carolina University and Western Carolina University Athletics Hall of Fame 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 was named in honor of LeClair.
"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, and two children, Audrey and J.D., and his parents Andy and Doris LeClair from Walpole, N.H.