Memorializing a Coach or Player
By Doug Abrams
From 1969 to 1985, Wally Livingstone led the Nassau County youth hockey program at the Cantiague Park Ice Rink in Hicksville, New York. His presence extended everywhere — as director of the County’s hockey program, coach of the midget travel team, and coach of an advanced summer conditioning clinic. When Wally died at age 48 on August 13, 1985, he left behind hundreds of friends and former players whose lives he had reached out and touched.
Among the hundreds was Doug Abrams, who played on Wally’s junior team in 1969 and became his midget team’s goaltending coach a decade later. As a player and then as a colleague, I watched Wally combine his knowledge of the game with energy, enthusiasm and a knack for teaching players of all ages.
Almost immediately after Wally’s passing, several of his friends and former players began to consider how to perpetuate his memory at the Rink. Many of us remembered losing a coach or teammate at some time in our lives. We also remembered how the emotions of the moment sometimes produced well-intentioned memorials that were destined not to achieve their purposes — memorials that seemed meaningful at the time but ultimately fell short, or memorials that seemed like they would last but ultimately did not.
Wally’s friends and former players were committed to doing it right. “Doing it right” — creating a meaningful or lasting memorial to a coach or player — is the subject of this column.
Creating a Meaningful Memorial
The most immediate way to create a meaningful memorial is to channel donations to a charity or cause that the coach or player held dear. The family frequently makes suggestions in the obituary or at the funeral home, and initial giving sometimes continues. The family might select a recipient that will dedicate a fund in the name of the coach or player.
The family might select a foundation or other organization connected with a school, it might select a scholarship fund, or it might select a youth sports program or other special cause. Sometimes families select a hospital or other provider that provided care and support during a final illness. The coach or player might have spoken about a particular charity, or family members might sense what the coach or player would want.
Big or small, individual gifts can make a perpetual difference, particularly where the recipient spends only a donation’s interest, and not the principal, each year. The intent behind a gift matters more than its amount because Aesop was right in his fable, The Lion and the Mouse: “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” At any age, adds billionaire New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “every dollar makes a difference, and that’s true whether it’s Warren Buffett’s remarkable $31 billion pledge to the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation, or my late father’s $25 check to the NAACP.”
Imagination might influence the family’s selection. When Boston Bruins fan Ron Shepherd died at 63 in Ontario, Canada this past April, for example, his family wanted to share his love of hockey with the next generation of youth leaguers. The family requested that instead of flowers that would last only a few days, each visitor to the funeral home bring a new hockey stick.
The Shepherd family donated the 75 new sticks to the local youth hockey program for free distribution to the youngsters, who ranged in age from five to high school. “My dad would be so happy to see the kids playing with the sticks,” said Shepherd’s daughter. “If we all just gave according to our ability,” concludes President Bill Clinton in Giving, his recent book on philanthropy, “the positive impact would be staggering. . . . If everyone did it, we would change the world.”
Creating a Lasting Memorial
Wally Livingstone’s friends and former players wanted a lasting memorial. First we requested that the County rename the Cantiague Park Ice Rink in his honor. It was worth a try, but we began seeking permanence in other ways when the County explained that renaming would be impossible.
Within a few weeks, we took the first step toward permanence when I wrote a remembrance of Wally for a national hockey magazine and several local Long Island newspapers. With so many articles chronicling excesses in youth leagues and high school sports these days, local media may welcome stories that cast a coach or teammate in a positive light.
Sometimes a staff writer can do the story about the coach or teammate, or else a simple phone call to the sports editor can reveal the newspaper’s specifications for letters-to-the editor or other opinion pieces that readers submit for publication. With today’s technology, the story and any accompanying photograph would be a permanent remembrance on the Internet.
After the article, we specifically chose not to dedicate an annual “Wally Livingstone Memorial Award” in the Nassau County youth hockey program. An annual award can last if it is endowed with an organization that will actually present it each year. And if its plaque or display is bolted into a wall in a prominent place, because bolting creates permanence. Annual awards often come with a risk, however, when the plaque can easily be removed from the wall, or when the plaque passes from one annual winner to the next. Too often, an award is forgotten within three or four years when memories of the honoree begin to fade and the plaque reciting winners’ names begins collecting dust in a winner’s basement.
We could have planted a tree in Wally’s honor in Cantiague Park, together with a memorial plaque, but we chose instead to remember Wally with a bronze plaque, featuring his likeness and suitable inscription, that would be bolted into the wall in the Cantiague Park Ice Rink’s lobby. After getting the County’s permission, we raised more than a thousand dollars and commissioned a stunning plaque that resembles what visitors see in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
Planning took nearly two years, but the wait was worth it. Wally’s bronze plaque, dedicated in October of 1987, recites that he “will forever be a part of Cantiague Park.” We were right too because, more than 24 years later, the plaque still greets everyone who walks into the rink.
[Sources: Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse, Aesop's Fables: A Classic Illustrated Edition, p. 38 (1990); Bill Clinton, Giving, pp. 55, 206 (2007); Barbara Simpson, Gift in Memory of Ron, Simcoe Reformer (Ontario, Canada), Apr. 18, 2011, p. 8.]