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Sports He's dedicated his life to softball. Now this N.B. sports legend is headed for the Hall of Fame

18:05  30 august  2021
18:05  30 august  2021 Source:   cbc.ca

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a person wearing a blue shirt: George Gillett has been selected to be inducted into Softball Canada's Hall of Fame for his nearly 70 years of volunteer work in his hometown of Hoyt. © Shane Fowler/CBC News George Gillett has been selected to be inducted into Softball Canada's Hall of Fame for his nearly 70 years of volunteer work in his hometown of Hoyt.

George Gillett can't remember the exact year he played his first game of softball.

He knows he was a teenager at the time, and that it was sometime between 1945 and 1947.

But whenever it was, that first game changed his life.

He's since dedicated nearly 70 years to the game in his tiny southeastern New Brunswick hometown of Hoyt, about 50 kilometres south of Fredericton.

For that reason, Gillett has been selected to be inducted into Softball Canada's hall of fame.

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"It's been my life," Gillett said from the dugout on the field he built. "This is my home away from home."

a group of people posing for a photo: George Gillet has been playing and coaching softball in Hoyt since the 1940's. © Shane Fowler/CBC News George Gillet has been playing and coaching softball in Hoyt since the 1940's.

Gillett remembers clearing alders in the 1950s to make room for the ball field that is still used every week. It has since been renamed the George Gillett Field in his honour.

In the '60s he coached his team to a Maritime Championship. He would go on to coach the Hoyt Schooners to that title more than a dozen times. He'd coach them to more than 40 provincial championships as well.

In 1981, Gillett  worked to install the first set of lights in a New Brunswick ball field, allowing games to be played late into the night.

He's kept scorebooks for nearly every game ever played on that field, dating back to 1959.

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But ask him how many teams he's coached and he's at a loss.

"Oh my God, I couldn't count them all, I don't think," Gillett said. "I'd take a team when they were five years old and coach them until they were at least 18 or 20.

"One time I coached [until they were] 45 or so. That's how I won all the championships."

a man sitting on a wooden floor: George Gillett has been keeping scorebooks of each team that's ever played in Hoyt dating back to 1959. © Shane Fowler/CBC News George Gillett has been keeping scorebooks of each team that's ever played in Hoyt dating back to 1959.

Gillett has kept a jersey from every Hoyt team that's ever played at the rec centre next to his field, along with dozens of trophies and photos from every team he's coached or played on.

That includes the very first team he played on back in the '40's.

"I'm the only surviving member of that team," said Gillett. "The rest are all passed on."

text, whiteboard: George Gillett has been keeping scorebooks of nearly every game played in Hoyt dating back to 1959. © Shane Fowler/CBC News George Gillett has been keeping scorebooks of nearly every game played in Hoyt dating back to 1959.

At 87, Gillett still works on the Hoyt ball field daily, although he admits friends and neighbours often chase him off the field for working too hard.

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Last week he helped install new playground equipment at the ball field in the memory of his late wife, Anna.

As much time as he spent on the ball field, he said, she matched it working at the ball field's canteen, serving up "millions" of hotdogs to those in the stands over the decades.

He still visits her twice a day at the cemetery near his home. Once in the morning and once at night, under the headstone that bears their names along with a large carving of a ball field inscribed with the words "Field of Dreams."

a close up of a stone building: The gravestone that marks where George Gillett will be buried, next to his wife Anna, sports a sprawling graphic of a ball field, inscribed with © Shane Fowler/CBC News The gravestone that marks where George Gillett will be buried, next to his wife Anna, sports a sprawling graphic of a ball field, inscribed with

After coaching countless teams since the '50s, Gillett can still rattle off the names and stats of the players he coached who went on to play in much bigger leagues than the Maritimes.

"Sonny Phillips, he went to the Pan-America Games, he was the winning catcher," said Gillett. "And Lindsay Tracy, Donald Nason, Terry Youngblood."

Those players say they owe much of their success to Gillett's tutelage.

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"We call George the godfather of softball," said Jeremy Tracy.

After playing softball as a child in Hoyt, coached by Gillett, Tracy went on to play fast-pitch softball across North America at the World level and spent a few years playing for Team Canada. A fellow New Brunswick Sports Hall of Famer, Tracy said softball owes a lot to Gillett.

"Softball probably wouldn't even still be going if wasn't for George still being involved in the game," he said. "There's no person more deserving."

a man standing in front of a fence: New Brunswick sport hall of famer, Jeremy Tracy, has travelled all over North America in his softball career. He says he owes much of his success to the volunteer coaching of George Gillett. © Shane Fowler/CBC News New Brunswick sport hall of famer, Jeremy Tracy, has travelled all over North America in his softball career. He says he owes much of his success to the volunteer coaching of George Gillett.

Those who still live in Hoyt point to softball and the field Gillett built as the centre of the community.

"George is my oldest friend," said David Kirkpatrick. "I've had two grandfathers that have passed, but I've still got my George."

Kirkpatrick was nine years old when he started playing softball, coached by Gillett. He can still remember going to tournaments with 12 other players, plus equipment, stuffed into Gillett's eight-seater van.

Now 45, he still plays for the Hoyt Schooners. And George comes to every one of his home games.

"I don't think I'd know what community was if it wasn't for George," said Kirkpatrick.

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a man wearing a hat and smiling at the camera: David Kirkpatrick has been playing softball in Hoyt since the age of nine. He says that Gillett, with his years of coaching and his tireless volunteer work, taught him the meaning of community. © Shane Fowler/CBC News David Kirkpatrick has been playing softball in Hoyt since the age of nine. He says that Gillett, with his years of coaching and his tireless volunteer work, taught him the meaning of community.

Despite the praise, Gillett said he kind of wishes people would stop nominating him for halls of fame.

He was inducted into the New Brunswick Softball Hall of Fame in its inaugural year, back in 1994.

"I didn't really need another one," he said. "I've got three now. Sport New Brunswick, Softball New Brunswick, and Oromocto and Area. Five of my teams have been in the hall too, but I guess I have to do what I'm told now."

Gillett will be inducted, along with John MacEwen of Nova Scotia, at the Softball Canada annual general meeting, set for Nov. 11-13 in Fredericton.

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