BURRILLVILLE — Whichever anecdote you start the portrait with, rest assured the canvas reserved for Wilfred "Skee" Carter's legacy won’t remain blank for long.
Carter’s true legacy is a lifetime of vivid hues that epitomize what this gentle and sincere man means to the town of Burrillville. Last Wednesday’s news of his sudden passing was a jolt to the systems of those who interacted with him over the years – and there were countless people in this rural community who had the good fortune of coming into contact with Skee.
Carter is “Mr. Burrillville,” 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.
“His legacy is every kid who has ever played for him at Burrillville High School,” expressed Marty Crowley, head varsity coach of the Broncos’ cross-country programs. “He was vested in the town of Burrillville, and his loss is felt throughout the entire community, not just those who know him.”
Added Burrilllville baseball assistant coach Peter Berthelette: “I cannot honestly think of any other coach or teacher at the high school – and he’s been retired from teaching since (2002) – 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.
“His 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.”
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.
It’s little moments like this that illuminate the devotion Carter had for “Bronco Pride.”
“He talked about all the kids on the team; he knew them all by name. He also gave a rundown on how the game went,” Berthelette recalled. “He cared about the kids that were at Burrillville.”
Berthelette’s words highlight a side of Carter that further illustrates what a young people’s 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 boys’ and girls’ basketball games, Carter devoted so much time and energy to the Bronco athletic community he became a favorite of all athletes.
“He supported all the teams,” Crowley noted.
“Skee was front row at many sporting events for I don’t know how many years,” remarked Tim Norton, a standout pitcher at Burrillville High (Class of 2001) and onetime farmhand in the New York Yankees’ minor-league system. “He was the face of athletics over there and he’s going to be missed.”
It didn’t 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.
“I know a lot of my friends on the hockey team who didn’t have Mr. Carter as a coach were pretty upset upon hearing he had died,” 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. “He was a lovable figure and very much respected.”
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 – in addition to cross country, he also mentored those on the middle school boys’ basketball team for a number of years – and later in high school, you knew you were in reliable hands.
“For seven of the first 17 or 18 years of your life, you’re dealing with this man at a very important time of your developmental stage,” Crowley said. “There aren’t many better role models who have such a strong influence on people.”
For those coached by the man himself, Carter came across as somebody who wasn’t an overbearing sort – far from it, actually. His caring nature helped foster an environment that made it such that you looked forward to practice or game days.
“The difference between him and a lot of other coaches is that he knew we were all kids and that this wasn’t a life-or-death thing for us,” said Dumais, currently a freshman runner at Providence College. “There were some days when coach Crowley couldn’t make it to practice and he would tell us that coach Carter had the workout. We were all excited and say ‘This is going to be a fun practice!’
“Coach Carter would tell us ‘happy trails’ before going out for a run, and that was just one of the catch phrases he would say. It’s a saying that we’ll be using for the rest of our lives!” Dumais giggled. “He was a personality that had a lot of influence on the team.”
“Skee always wanted the best for us boys. He had the team over for dinner at his house a couple of times,” was the gratitude Norton conveyed. “You 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 – it’s tough to come up with a better compliment than that.”
All of the quotes you’ve 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 don’t solely define him. Even after his passing, his legacy isn’t 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.
“The bridge (to the next generation of Burrillville athletes) will be the athletes and those who coached with him,” summed up Crowley. “One of my sophomore runners texted me and said that every time she runs, she’ll hear Skee singing and calling her name. He will always be with them.”
Rest in peace, Skee. You will not only be missed on the diamond and trails, but everywhere there’s a Burrillville sporting event taking place.