Lacrosse loses one of its savviest minds with death of Wingrove

Les Wingrove never met a conversation he couldn’t extend.

The longtime lacrosse executive loved to debate, deliberate, detail and define. He had a talent for talk, and you’d routinely find him holding court on the corridors at various arenas around the Lower Mainland.

Wingrove died Friday. He was 74.

He knew the game backwards and forwards from various levels, and reached arguably the pinnacle of the sport in 2001, when he was general manager of the Coquitlam Adanacs team that captured the Mann Cup Senior A national championship.

He’ll be remembered for that. And for being a guy who considered a quick chat a discussion lasting at least 20 minutes.

“I was coming out of the arena after my first practice with Coquitlam with a bunch of guys and Les was there in the parking lot and he and I got to talking,” recalled Russ Heard, the longtime Burnaby Laker stalwart who ended up with the Adanacs in 1999 as part of another championship push by Wingrove.

“By the time we were done talking the parking lot was empty. Everybody else had left. By the time I got home, my wife was worried that something had happened.”

Lacrosse legend remembered as ‘wonderful man’

To tell the story of Les Wingrove’s life is to go through a rollodex of a Who’s Who of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

But the longtime lacrosse player, coach, manager, executive and member of that very same hall of fame who passed away suddenly late Friday at the age of 74 was about much more than the sport that was his life’s passion, said Coquitlam councillor Chris Wilson.

“He was just such a wonderful man who wanted to make a difference in his community,” said Wilson, who worked with Wingrove to construct displays to honour the athletes, coaches and builders in the Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame.

In fact, Wilson said, it was Wingrove’s idea to put the hall of fame into the lobby of the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex where those displays were passed by 1.4 million people last year — that’s almost five times more than visit the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto annually.

“He wanted to put it in an area where there’s a constant flow of people,” Wilson said. “It provides some inspiration and motivation for young athletes and gives them role models.”

Wingrove’s role in the formation of Coquitlam minor lacrosse, his work as a coach for seven teams from tyke to midget, as well as an official, and a two-year term as its president, helped instill in many of those young athletes a love for lacrosse. Some of those even followed as Wingrove rose through the ranks to the Coquitlam Junior Adanacs of the BC Junior A Lacrosse League and then the senior team in the Western Lacrosse Association.

Like Port Moody’s Ken Thomas who had Wingrove as his coach all the way from when he was 11 years old through his junior career with the Adanacs from 1985-88 and again when Thomas came out of retirement in 2001 with the senior team and they won a Mann Cup together.

“Les wanted us to do our best, achieve our best, but he wanted us to do it the right way,” said Thomas, who’s also in the lacrosse hall of fame. “He was a father figure to a lot of the guys.”

Another hall of famer, Pat Coyle, said it was Wingrove’s persistence that convinced him to move west from Ontario where he’d won Mann Cups with the Brampton Excelsiors in 1992 and 1993.

“He was relentless,” said Coyle of the telephone pitches that continued even as he set the phone down to go to the washroom then returned to still hear Wingrove trying to woo him.

When Coyle finally relented and joined the Adanacs in 1994, he was quickly absorbed into Wingrove’s way of doing things, including a raucous annual party for the team at his home.

“We’d destroy his backyard and he’d just be smiling as we did it,” said Coyle, who now coaches the Junior Adanacs.

Todd Clerkson, the principal at Heritage Woods secondary school in Port Moody and a former player with the junior and senior Adanacs, said Wingrove had a knack for turning boys into upstanding young men.

“He was constantly encouraging,” Clerkson said. “He was one of those guys who was very positive, and I needed that in my early 20’s.”

James Abbott, the president of the junior Adanacs who helped bring Wingrove back into the team’s fold in 2012 after he was dismissed from his position as the general manager of the senior team in 2011, said his knowledge of the game, and of the Coquitlam lacrosse scene, were indispensable.

“He knew everything, he’d experienced everything, and you could always tap into it,” Abbott said. “He was definitely a mentor to me.”

Wilson said the death in 2010 of Wingrove’s son, local lacrosse legend Trevor, hit him hard and he thought by working together on the hall of fame displays he might be able to help fill a bit of that hole in Les’ heart. Instead, Wilson said, it was he who was nurtured.

“I got just as much out of it if not more,” Wilson said. “That’s just the kind of guy he was.”

Abbott said Wingrove’s legacy and spirit will be felt every time a player of any age pulls on an Adanacs jersey and their loved ones cheer from the stands.

“You just know and feel the importance of the Adanac logo in the community,” he said. “You look across the board and he’s respected by everyone.”

Arrangements for a memorial service for Wingrove have yet to be announced. Both the Western Lacrosse Association and the BC Junior A Lacrosse League posted tributes to him on their websites, and the latter announced each of its eight teams will hold a minute of silence as they open their respective seasons.