Youth sports coach Gary Gallant was “just a lovable guy’

The late Gary Gallant, left, with fellow coach Bryan Chappell, right, and the 1986 Sarnia Starfire Bantam A girls hockey team. Submitted Photro

Troy Shantz

Gary Gallant once coached a Sarnia girl’s hockey team through three consecutive seasons without a tournament loss.

Not bad for a guy who was uncomfortable on the ice, said friend and fellow coach Bryan Chappell.

“He couldn’t skate. (But) he was a very good coach and the kids all loved him,” Chappell said.

Gallant, who for decades coached minor baseball and football as well as hockey, died March 21 at the age of 78.

He worked at Sarnia’s parks and recreation department for more than 30 years, and is remembered as a compassionate person who was quick to lend a helping hand. He left behind daughter Tina Wells and her husband Rawle Parris, and grandsons Nathan Wells and Zion Parris.

Sarnia’s Dave Greenwood met him in 1968, shortly after Gallant arrived from P.E.I.

“Everybody loved Gary,” said Greenwood. “He was just a lovable guy.”

Gallant coached the SMAA Packers, a group of boys drawn from St. Joseph’s and Devine Street schools.

After one season of football Gallant started coaching girls’ and boys’ baseball and hockey, Greenwood said.

He would often take carloads of players out for dinner, or drive them to Detroit to take in a Tigers or Red Wings game.

Greenwood recalled one trip in which Gallant took a mob of wide-eyed Sarnia boys to Detroit’s old Olympia Stadium and stationed them near the arrival entrance of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He made sure we got there and stood in this little lobby so we could watch Dave Keon, Tim Horton and Frank Mahovlich – all the greats – walk right past us,” he said.

“It came from the heart.“

Gallant studied the art of coaching, and led the Bantam A Starfire team to perfect tournament records in 1985, 1986 and 1987, said Chappell, whose daughter was the goalie.

He was slow to anger with his players and everyone loved being around him, he said.

At one of their first tournaments, Gallant called a team meeting the first night and proceeded to pull out a suitcase. It was packed full of chocolate bars, Chappell said.

“I don’t know if the parents appreciated that,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s just the way he was.”