Despite life’s struggles, Orillia man says baseball kept him on track
Jack White ‘didn’t have a good childhood’, was wrongfully convicted of sexual assault, but persevered, in part because of his passion for baseball
Orillia coach and volunteer Jack White overcame many obstacles to pursue his passion for playing and coaching baseball.
The 77-year-old was born in Toronto and raised in a series of foster homes as an orphan.
“Instead of the Children’s Aid Society finding me a place to live, they put me in an institution,” he says. “I had been at the Huronia Regional Center (HRC)…in Orillia since I was eight years old.
Despite what White describes as a normal level of intelligence, he was forced to start life in an institution for people with intellectual disabilities.
“I didn’t have a good childhood,” he says. “I survived it because I clung to certain things to keep me alive, and one of those things was baseball.”
White’s idol, Mickey Mantle, first inspired him to get the most out of life and get involved in baseball.
“When I first heard about baseball, it was all about the New York Yankees,” he says. “Mickey Mantle has always struck me and I’ve been a fan of him throughout his career.”
White was playing exhibition baseball games in the HRC yard with other orphans, and he says he was a natural right away.
“I could pick up a bat 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 took him out of 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 eventually allowed to leave HRC and play baseball whenever he wanted.
The next hurdle for White was to educate himself.
“I was assessed with a level 4 education,” he said. “In 1966 they had a continuing education program in Elliot Lake, and I went there and convinced people that I was smart enough and had been retained.”
He worked until a 12th grade and earned Psychology 101 credit. Then he returned to his childhood home, HRC, where he worked as a counselor for 23 years with a mission to treat residents better. than the way he was cared for.
“There were a few people who made fun of my work there,” he says. “Here’s someone we’ve been bullying for years and all of a sudden he’s working here now.”
The resentment of his colleagues did not bother White, and he stuck to it. He thinks he was one of the best staff advisers and won awards for his work.
“They wanted to destroy my reputation because I was doing so well and was in the newspaper for baseball all the time,” he said. “The theory was, ‘We have to stop this Jack White’.”
In 1993, White was wrongfully convicted of sexually assaulting a woman with an intellectual disability. The judge gave him a suspended sentence to prevent him from going to jail, but his sentencing would result in the loss of his job and the privilege of playing or coaching baseball.
“I was determined to prove to everyone that I am innocent,” he says. “It was tough, but I persevered and did well.”
In 2009, the Supreme Court ordered the Ontario Court of Appeal to reconsider White’s case. A year later, his charges were dropped and his name was eventually cleared.
Seventeen years later, White could finally get his life back on track. Now he is as happy as ever. He is a baseball coach in the summer and an ice hockey goaltender in the winter.
He’s had a successful tenure as a coach using the same teaching strategy he’s used throughout his life, which is to stay positive.
“I like to see the smile on children’s faces,” he says. “I always approach children positively, never negatively.”
White says the best way to coach youngsters is to pick out the positives in their game and then quietly work on their weaknesses.
White’s passion for coaching dates back to 1979, when he attended the Best Ever Baseball Clinic in Toronto. He hopes he can continue coaching baseball for years to come.
“I’m still young at heart,” he said. “I can still pass the kids, and as long as I can stay in front of the kids, I’m fine.”
This year, White will coach 14-year-old bantam players with Orillia Legion Minor Baseball.
“My goal is to make the game much easier for kids to play,” he says. “I want to teach and pass on all the skills I have learned over the years.”
White will be available all summer to conduct baseball clinics for players looking to hone their skills. He encourages parents to call him at 705-327-9553 to schedule a practice date and time.
“I do it for free,” he says. “I once got paid by the legion to do a baseball clinic and I gave them the money back and said, ‘It’s for the kids who can’t afford to play’. “
He says the joy of watching kids have fun, grow and fall in love with baseball is well worth the time to organize the clinics.