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'Extremely proud': Late coach being enshrined in hall of fame

'We are very grateful that he is going to be honoured like this. Martin would have loved it,' Carl's widow says ahead of tonight's induction ceremony

Martin Carl’s profound impact on sports in Simcoe County and the kids who played them will be recognized when the late Eastview Secondary School football coach is inducted into the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame this evening.

“We are very grateful that he is going to be honoured like this,” says his widow, Eileen, who shares two daughters, Mackenzie and Whitney, and three grandchildren with her late husband.

A fourth grandchild is due to arrive in the new year.

“Martin would have loved it," Eileen tells BarrieToday

Carl died unexpectedly 28 months ago in May 2020. He was 60 years old. His death came just two weeks after his own father passed away and in the early stages of the pandemic. Carl was just a few months into retirement from Eastview at the time of his death.

COVID’s grip seem to amplify his family’s loss. Equally stunned were Carl’s wide network of friends, colleagues, athletes both past and present, and students whom he touched in his 30 years as a teacher/coach.

The Barrie Sports Hall of Fame induction was surely going to happen anyway. But coming as it does after Carl has died, it honours a life cut too short that likely had many more chapters to be told in the sporting arena and beyond.

Bittersweet doesn’t begin to describe it.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever be over (his passing),” Eileen says. “(His death) was not an isolated loss.”

“We’re just taking it day by day,” says Mackenzie’s husband, Jake Piotrowski, who played for his future father-in-law at Eastview and later at the University of Guelph and then for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.

The enduring sense of pride is starting to overtake grief.

“Martin Carl was our dad,” explains Mackenzie. “We are just extremely proud of all the (lives he touched).”

That impact included charity initiatives that helped provide opportunities to young football players, as well as female hockey and softball players, Carl’s spear-heading of the Thursday Night Lights high school games and in the numerous athletes he helped develop that pursued athletic careers beyond high school.

“The (atmosphere) was like a university homecoming,” Mackenzie remembers of Thursday Night Lights. “Kids were enthralled.”

More than one person consulted for this story cited Carl’s championing of high school football as perhaps the single biggest reason for its survival in challenging times brought on by demographic change, increased insurance/equipment costs and a sense that the sport, rightly or wrongly, is perceived as being dangerous.

The Toronto native came to Barrie more than 30 years ago. In between leaving his north Toronto neighbourhood where he grew up and coming to Barrie, he attended Lakehead University – where he met Eileen – in Thunder Bay.

Newcomers who knew no one, the Carls soon loved the Barrie area and it loved him back.

Ask around town and everyone has a Martin Carl story: about his football knowledge, his presence in the classroom, his ability to connect with students who could be struggling and his intuitive mind that always saw a way to get things done.

It’s one thing to be a good coach and another to be a gifted administrator. But those two jobs are often mutually exclusive; the lack of being able to fuse them together often means great ideas never make it past the planning stage.

Turning ideas into reality, his dogged pursuit to benefit others was perhaps Carl’s greatest strength. And it was all done with his personal touch.

“He always wanted to help people that needed a hand,” Eileen recalls. "His (motto) was others before self — especially so with kids.”

Eileen, Mackenzie and Whitney all made it plain that they are still mourning his passing. There were plenty of happy comments during two recent phone conversations, but, understandably, almost as many tearful ones.

Mackenzie even managed a bit of sass – “we think he had two,” she quipped, metaphorically pointing to herself and her sister across the phone line, when asked what she thought her dad’s greatest accomplishment was.

To that end, it is not hard to imagine what a wonderful grandfather Mackenzie and Whitney’s father would have been had fate not dealt such a cruel blow.

When they are old enough, it won’t take long for those grandchildren to find out for themselves. Many kids in the local community who are now adults will not forget the thrill of playing (or attending) Thursday Night Lights, or Kempenfelt Cup hockey tournaments, or how he helped replenish the teams’ coffers with bingo fundraisers to keep the fun rolling.

“We had young men tell us," Eileen says of his memorial held at Eastview in June, “that they became better fathers because of Martin.”

Martin Carl’s positive influence on Barrie has a long journey to run yet.

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Peter Robinson

About the Author: Peter Robinson

Barrie's Peter Robinson is a sports columnist for BarrieToday. He is the author of Hope and Heartbreak in Toronto, his take on living with the disease of being a Leafs fan.
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