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BURRILLVILLE â Whichever anecdote you start the portrait with, rest assured the canvas reserved for Wilfred "Skee" Carter's legacy wonât remain blank for long.
Carterâs true legacy is a lifetime of vivid hues that epitomize what this gentle and sincere man means to the town of Burrillville. Last Wednesdayâs news of his sudden passing was a jolt to the systems of those who interacted with him over the years â and there were countless people in this rural community who had the good fortune of coming into contact with Skee.
Carter is âMr. Burrillville,â a befitting title illustrating just how visible a person he was beyond his Bronco baseball and cross-country duties and the profound effect he had on young people.
âHis legacy is every kid who has ever played for him at Burrillville High School,â expressed Marty Crowley, head varsity coach of the Broncosâ cross-country programs. âHe was vested in the town of Burrillville, and his loss is felt throughout the entire community, not just those who know him.â
Added Burrilllville baseball assistant coach Peter Berthelette: âI cannot honestly think of any other coach or teacher at the high school â and heâs been retired from teaching since (2002) â who went to as many athletic events as he does. He virtually supported every sport in the building, going to many games throughout the season.
âHis family was first and it should be, followed by baseball and cross country, but I would have half-hour discussions about the other sports going on at Burrillville.â
One such conversation between Carter and his Bronco baseball lieutenant took place last Sunday. His voice full of emotion, Berthelette mentioned Carter raved for roughly 20 minutes about a recent high school hockey game he attended.
Itâs little moments like this that illuminate the devotion Carter had for âBronco Pride.â
âHe talked about all the kids on the team; he knew them all by name. He also gave a rundown on how the game went,â Berthelette recalled. âHe cared about the kids that were at Burrillville.â
Bertheletteâs words highlight a side of Carter that further illustrates what a young peopleâs person he was. Coaching high school sports is demanding enough these days, but to see Carter present at Alumni Field for football games on Saturday mornings in an on-site supervisory capacity, or operate the shot clock for boysâ and girlsâ basketball games, Carter devoted so much time and energy to the Bronco athletic community he became a favorite of all athletes.
âHe supported all the teams,â Crowley noted.
âSkee was front row at many sporting events for I donât know how many years,â remarked Tim Norton, a standout pitcher at Burrillville High (Class of 2001) and onetime farmhand in the New York Yankeesâ minor-league system. âHe was the face of athletics over there and heâs going to be missed.â
It didnât matter if you competed for Carter or not. His omnipresence helped foster a culture that every person who ever donned a Bronco uniform felt they could always count on this one-person cheering section.
âI know a lot of my friends on the hockey team who didnât have Mr. Carter as a coach were pretty upset upon hearing he had died,â said Anna Dumais, a 2012 graduate of Burrillville High and a young lady who had Carter as a cross-country coach for three years in middle school and four more at the high school level. âHe was a lovable figure and very much respected.â
He was also someone who saw adolescents like Dumais grow up right before his eyes. If you were fortunate enough to be coached by Carter in middle school â in addition to cross country, he also mentored those on the middle school boysâ basketball team for a number of years â and later in high school, you knew you were in reliable hands.
âFor seven of the first 17 or 18 years of your life, youâre dealing with this man at a very important time of your developmental stage,â Crowley said. âThere arenât many better role models who have such a strong influence on people.â
For those coached by the man himself, Carter came across as somebody who wasnât an overbearing sort â far from it, actually. His caring nature helped foster an environment that made it such that you looked forward to practice or game days.
âThe difference between him and a lot of other coaches is that he knew we were all kids and that this wasnât a life-or-death thing for us,â said Dumais, currently a freshman runner at Providence College. âThere were some days when coach Crowley couldnât make it to practice and he would tell us that coach Carter had the workout. We were all excited and say âThis is going to be a fun practice!â
âCoach Carter would tell us âhappy trailsâ before going out for a run, and that was just one of the catch phrases he would say. Itâs a saying that weâll be using for the rest of our lives!â Dumais giggled. âHe was a personality that had a lot of influence on the team.â
âSkee always wanted the best for us boys. He had the team over for dinner at his house a couple of times,â was the gratitude Norton conveyed. âYou would be real hard-pressed for anyone around (Burrillville) to say one bad thing about Skee. I played [baseball] for him for four years and never heard him say anything harmful toward anybody. He was a good-hearted man â itâs tough to come up with a better compliment than that.â
All of the quotes youâve read up until this point manifest that Carter was more than just a coach. Wins or losses, championship seasons or sending players off to the next level, they donât solely define him. Even after his passing, his legacy isnât complete, not by a long shot. There are so many folks with personal attachments to Carter that his memory will endure for years to come.
Simply put, Carter provided the gift that keeps on giving.
âThe bridge (to the next generation of Burrillville athletes) will be the athletes and those who coached with him,â summed up Crowley. âOne of my sophomore runners texted me and said that every time she runs, sheâll hear Skee singing and calling her name. He will always be with them.â
Rest in peace, Skee. You will not only be missed on the diamond and trails, but everywhere thereâs a Burrillville sporting event taking place.