Orillia coach and volunteer Jack White has overcome plenty of hurdles to chase his passion for playing and coaching baseball.
The 77-year-old was born in Toronto and was raised in a series of foster homes as an orphan.
“Instead of Children’s Aid finding me a place to live, they put me into an institution,” he says. “I was in the Huronia Regional Centre (HRC)... in Orillia since I was eight years old.”
Despite having what White describes as a normal level of intelligence, he was forced to start life in an institution for those with intellectual challenges.
“I didn't have a good childhood,” he says. “I survived it because I grasped onto certain things to keep me going, and one of those things was baseball.”
White’s idol, Mickey Mantle, was what first inspired him to make the best of life and get involved with baseball.
“When I first heard about baseball, it was all about the New York Yankees,” he says. “Mickey Mantle always struck me, and I became a fan of him throughout his career.”
White would play exhibition baseball games in the HRC yard with other orphans, and he says he was a natural right away.
“I could pick a bat up and I could throw a baseball. I could really do it,” he says. “My coach there, Jack, tried to get me into minor baseball in Orillia, but they wouldn’t let me play.”
His coach snuck him out of the HRC to play in a few minor baseball games with the town kids, which always meant a lot to White.
Life got a lot better for him when he turned 18. He was finally allowed to leave the HRC and play baseball whenever he desired.
The next hurdle for White was getting educated.
“I was assessed with Grade 4-level education,” he said. “In 1966, they had a continuing education program in Elliot Lake, and I went in there and convinced the folks that I’m intelligent enough and have been held back.”
He worked all the way to a Grade 12 education and got a credit in Psychology 101. Then, he made his return to his childhood home, the HRC, where he worked as a counsellor for 23 years with the mission of treating residents better than how he was treated.
“There were a few people who got their noses out of joint about me working there,” he says. “Here is somebody that we bossed around for years and bullied and, all of the sudden, he’s working here now.”
The resentment from fellow workers didn’t bother White, and he stuck to it. He believes he was one of the best counsellors on staff, and he won awards for his work.
“They wanted to destroy my reputation because I was doing so well and was in the paper all of the time for baseball,” he said. “The theory was, ‘We’ve got to stop that Jack White'.”
In 1993, White was wrongly convicted for the sexual assault of a developmentally disabled woman. The judge gave him a suspended sentence to stop him from going to prison, but being convicted would result in White losing his job and the privilege of playing or coaching baseball.
“I was determined to prove to everybody that I’m innocent,” he says. “It was hard, but I persevered and came through it all right.”
In 2009, the Supreme Court ordered that the Ontario Court of Appeal reconsider White’s case. One year later, his charges were withdrawn and his name was finally cleared.
Seventeen years later, White could finally get his life back on track. Now, he’s as happy as ever. He coaches baseball in the summer and ice hockey goaltending in the winter.
He has had a successful tenure as a coach by using the same strategy to teach as he has used to get through his life, which is to stay positive.
“I enjoy seeing the smile on kids’ faces,” he says. “I always approach kids in a positive manner, never negative.”
White says the best way to coach young people is to pick out the positives in their game and then quietly work on their weaknesses.
White’s passion for coaching dates to 1979, when he attended the Best Ever Baseball Clinic in Toronto. He is hopeful that he can keep coaching baseball for years to come.
“I’m still young in spirit,” he said. “I can still outrun the kids, and as long as I can stay ahead of the kids, I’m all right.”
This year, White will be coaching 14-year-old bantam players with Orillia Legion Minor Baseball.
“My goal is to make the game a lot easier for the kids to play,” he says. “I want to teach and pass along all the skills I’ve learned over the years.”
White will be available all summer to run baseball clinics for players looking to sharpen their skills. He encourages parents to call him at 705-327-9553 to set up a practice date and time.
“I do this for free,” he says. “I was paid by the legion one time to do a baseball clinic and I turned the money back into them and said, ‘This is for the kids who can’t afford to play'.”
He says the joy of watching children have fun, grow, and fall in love with the game of baseball is well worth the time of organizing the clinics.