Like a spike serve rocketing over the net, tributes are quickly pouring in for Dan Lethbridge.
The long-time coach of the Georgian Bay Vista Volleyball team is being fondly remembered for his tenacity, dedication and compassion towards the hundreds of teenaged girls who went through the elite program he led for close to 30 years.
“There are no words to really describe the loss that our small volleyball community feels here in the Midland and Penetang area,” former Vista player Melissa St. Amant said.
“On behalf of the girls that you coached, thank you.”
Lethbridge, 63, passed away Tuesday at his home with family nearby. He is survived by his mother Sandra A. Sullivan along with close relatives and friends. A graveside service will be held at a later date with family, according to his obituary.
Besides being a regular fixture on the volleyball courts of Midland and Penetanguishene, Lethbridge worked for many years as a limo driver with Imperial Express and more recently served the public as a fuel attendant and helper at the Racetrac gas station.
Liarra Woods (Marchand), another former Vista player, has started a Go Fund Me campaign to memorialize her Volleyball mentor. As of Friday afternoon, the fund had surpassed its $3,000 goal and was sitting at just over $3,600.
She said the money will go towards a memorial bench placed near a volleyball court in the area, but could also be used for a donation of volleyball equipment to a local school in Lethbridge’s honour.
“Dan was a dedicated coach to hundreds of local girls and I would love to honour his passion in some way,” said Woods, who played with Vista for three years and says Lethbridge is definitely someone who deserves to be fêted.
“He was awesome,” Woods said, noting Lethbridge could sometimes be tough with his players, but that was a way to ensure they always gave their best.
“He was very supportive. If you were struggling, he would spend time with you before and after practice if it was needed. For such a small club, he really made a go of it. We had lots of successful players come out of it.”
Lucille Robillard worked alongside Lethbridge as a volunteer coach for 17 years with the run only coming to an end last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He was fun to work with because he had a wonderful sense of humour,” she said, noting Lethbridge founded Vista in 1989 with former sports reporter Brad Lyon and ran the organization with other volunteer coaches for years.
In the beginning, Robillard said Lethbridge or another coach would load up a group of girls in a van to play at tournaments in different areas of the province.
“In the earlier years, the number of teams weren’t as vast,” said Robillard, whose two daughters Michelle and Julie also played with Vista.
That changed as more club teams came online and starting playing under the Ontario Volleyball Association banner.
“We had tryouts in September and the season would begin in October with monthly tournaments leading up to the April OVA championships,” said Robillard, who noted she’s not sure whether Vista will be able to continue without Lethbridge’s steadfast commitment and leadership.
“He loved the game himself and he really enjoyed watching the development of these kids from beginning right through,” Robilliard said.
“And his sense of competitiveness and teaching fair play was very important to him. These kids ended up being his family.”
St. Amant said through Lethbridge’s dedication and leadership, he encouraged young girls to develop confidence and self-esteem and helped foster lifelong friendships.
“He provided opportunities that we would never otherwise have had a chance to do, such as travelling the country and playing in massive tournaments at elite U.S. universities,” she said, adding that with these opportunities, Lethbridge paved the way for many of his players to have the skills, determination and character needed to play volleyball in the CIS and NCAA.
Added St. Amant in tribute: “Thank you for spending countless hours in the gym on weeknights and giving up weekends to allow us to participate in sport.”
And it’s only as one approaches adulthood that they really start to appreciate the true impact someone else has had on their life, according to Woods.
“I've been lucky and had really great coaches,” she said. “It's one of those things that you don't realize how much of an impact they have until you get a little older.”