If you are a softball player in the Ottawa area chances are you know the name Gil Read. Gil was best known as a coach for boys and girls, men and women, experts and beginners at ball diamonds across Canada. Some athletes even had the privilege to hit off a batting tee in his high-tech softball training facility (also known as his garage).
I first got to know Gil when I moved to Ottawa to study history (and softball) at the University of Ottawa. Gil was my coach at the University of Ottawa for two years, leading us to a second place finish in Ontario in 2005. I got to know Gil and the entire Read family well over the course of University, as I eventually ended up working for Gil, and his brother Rob, at Read Abstracts Ltd. I also had the tremendous opportunity to work for Softball Canada as the Learn to Play Softball Program Coordinator in 2005, a program that Gil was instrumental in founding.
Roughly three years after I first met Gil, he passed away. It was August 2007 and the softball community in Canada lost one of its greatest supporters. The Ottawa Citizen covered his death with an article entitled "Canadian Softball Loses One of It's Best."That was certainly not an overstatement.
Gil's accomplishments coach at the University of Ottawa was just the tip of an extremely large iceberg of notable achievements. He was a long-time coach, coaching both boys and girls teams. He led three teams to the Canadian Championships in 1993, 1995 and 1999 and also coached Team Ontario to Gold medals at the 1997, 2001 and 2005 Canada Summer Games. Gil was a member of Softball Ontario’s Coaching Committee from 1995 to 2002, served on Softball Canada’s Coaching Committee and was a Softball Canada Master Course Conductor from 1994 to 2006. On top of these coaching accomplishments, Gil also served as a member of Softball Canada’s Initiation Committee, and was Canada’s Team Leader at the 2003 ISF Junior Women’s World Championship, at the 2003 Women’s Olympic Team Qualifier and at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Gil often spoke highly of his time with the Senior Women's National team and the wonderful athletes he had a chance to work with on Softball's greatest stage. Gil was ultimately inducted into the Softball Canada Hall of Fame as a builder of the game in 2009.
Gil is remembered fondly by everyone that he coached. I once told my father that I learned more the first two months (the length of an Ontario University season) being coached by Gil than I had learned in my prior 14 years playing the game. It was not an exaggeration. Gil and his team of coaches are responsible for turning me from a mediocre tier two player from Prescott into a tier one player who won a bronze medal at the Senior Women's National Championships in 2009.
Gil's funeral was well attended by former players, fellow coaches and, of course, his loving family. His loss was felt across Canada, with one former colleague, Glen Harris, writing in 2007: "He was respected by everyone in the game. He assisted his players with all aspects of their game, as well as their development into athletes and outstanding young adults." Another friend, and former men's national team athlete under his guidance, Randy Peck commented in the Ottawa Citizen that "He was a tremendous friend and a tremendous person. He did more for ball in this area quietly than anyone realizes. He had tremendous ball knowledge, but was even a better person and friend."
It did not take long for his family to realize that Gil's name should live on and continue to do good things for sports in the Ottawa area. The Gil Read Memorial Foundation was founded shortly after Gil's passing and is currently in its fourth year of existence. The foundation raises money to "help less fortunate kids compete in sports across the City of Ottawa." The foundation has already raised thousands of dollars and has been funding athletes competing in Ottawa for the past two years.
The foundation fills an important role in the Ottawa sport community. The cost of youth sport is rising each year and given the hard economic times for many families, sport is becoming out of reach for some youth. Sports leagues in Ottawa that are aware of children that want to play, but cannot afford the high costs, are encouraged to contact the foundation.
The biggest annual event for the Gil Read Memorial Foundation is the Gil Read Memorial Fastpitch Tournament. This year's tournament is being hosted in Carp, Ontario from July 22-24. The tournament features play areas for kids, a splash pad, a beverage tent, a barbecue and, of course, high level fastpitch softball. A day pass for the tournament costs is $5 and the weekend pass is id="mce_marker"0. Kids under the age of 12 get free admission. The tournament has received good media coverage this year (see video below) and is hoping for a large turnout.
For those of you in the Ottawa area that are former or current softball players or are supporters of youth sport, it would be great to see you at the tournament in Carp this weekend. I have been to the tournament every year and it is one of the highlights of my summer. The tournament is a great celebration of Gil's life, of youth sport, and of the game of softball. For those that cannot make it, check out the Gil Read Memorial Foundation Online.
See you at the diamond!
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