Wyoming says goodbye to longtime baseball coach and supporter Dave Willis

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Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative

Dave Willis is being remembered as a passionate sportsman who contributed to his community.

“Dave was a pillar in Wyoming,” said friend Steve McGrail from the Wyoming Minor Baseball Association about Dave Willis, who was remembered at a Celebration of Life in Wyoming Saturday.

Willis passed away on Feb. 28 at the age of 77. Born in Sarnia, Willis was involved in coaching, managing and serving as a trainer for 40 years in baseball, hockey and football. He was inducted into the Sarnia Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Wyoming Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.

McGrail first met Willis in the late 1980s when he first coached him in Wyoming. McGrail said the coaches are often parents, but Willis was one of those rare coaches who coached for the love of the game anywhere he was needed, said McGrail.

“Often, it was just him at the diamond,” said McGrail, as he would put his team through their paces during a practice.

Willis always wanted to know how the kids he had coached over the years were doing in their lives. Willis coached hockey in Petrolia in the 1970s and was also a trainer for the Petrolia Jets.

He also scouted for the hockey teams with the Western Michigan University Broncos and Bowling Green University in the 1970s and early 1980s, where he help secure scholarships for local athletes.

Outside of athletics, Willis served as a Big Brother and was a military veteran serving in the Canadian Navy from 1963 to 1966. His most memorable moment in the navy was when he served on the HMCS Kootenay when they chased a Soviet submarine across the Atlantic Ocean at the height of the Cold War.

Recently, Willis moved into an apartment in Wyoming – close to the ball diamonds – and could often be found at the park, watching the teams play.
And McGrail says he was quick to chat about his favourite teams, the Maple Leafs, Detroit Tigers and Hamilton Tiger Cats.