Feb 222013



Friday, February 22, 2013

In a strictly clinical sense, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement, leading to tremors, weakness and ultimately the inability to use the arms, legs and other parts of the body. For those intimately familiar with the disease, seeing a friend or loved one suffer through its debilitating effects is akin to a nightmare.

This community knows all too well the devastation ALS brings to a body having seen former East Carolina University baseball coach Keith LeClair battle the disease for five years before his death in 2006. His quiet grace and remarkable strength remain an inspiration, and this weekend’s baseball tournament intends to celebrate that spirit and highlight the critical need for funding of ALS research.

The surest sign of Spring’s impending arrival here can be found along Charles Boulevard in Greenville. There, year after year, thousands of East Carolina fans gather to celebrate the start of the baseball season. They fill the stands at Clark-LeClair Stadium, populate the often rowdy Jungle beyond the outfield walls and dream of finally capturing a bid to the College World Series, a goal that has thus far eluded the Pirates.

Baseball has always enjoyed a high profile in this community, and is the chosen sport for a great number of area youth each summer. But at East Carolina, it was LeClair’s arrival in 1997 that set the sights higher and bolstered the ambitions of both the team and its supporters.

Winning became routine. Conference titles began to pile up. The Pirates made four consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament. Omaha looked closer than ever.

In 2001, however, LeClair began to notice uncommon muscle twitching and other symptoms of what would be diagnosed as ALS. The illness forced him to miss games and, ultimately, to resign following the 2002 season. Throughout the difficult years that followed, his optimism, strength and dignity were on full display. Before his death he attended the opening of the stadium that bears his name.

This weekend’s Keith LeClair Classic serves as a reminder that more can and should be done to research and discover more effective treatments and perhaps even a cure for ALS. And just as his jersey number, 23, is given to a player each year and worn with honor, the tournament helps keep alive a remarkable spirit that continues to inspire residents of this community.

via The Daily Reflector.


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