As the headline would suggest, Paul Gard is known for one thing in the NWT: softball. Sure, he’s done more than that but the mere mention of his name in sporting circles in the North almost always goes back to softball.
That’s how I got to know him. Never heard of his name before I called him in 2006 during my days at CJCD (long live Mix 100). The original conversation was to talk about the demise of the NWT Umpires Association and how the funds remaining in the bank account would be distributed to various areas of the sport in the NWT. He was president of NWT Softball at the time and during the course of our conversation, he spoke about how they were looking for an umpire-in-chief.
Naturally, because I love the sport of softball as much as he does, I couldn’t resist — or bite my tongue, whatever works — blurting out these words which would forever change things:
“Well, I’m a Level III out of Ontario from the Toronto area.” (Level III being right smack in the middle of the umpiring certification food chain … not quite international but well above the local level.)
“Oh, really?,” was his response. “Would you be interested in becoming our new UIC (umpire-in-chief)?”
Could I say no? Of course not. He had the reel in the water and he was just waiting for me to bite, like he knew I would. About a month following that chat, I was the new UIC for NWT Softball, a position I held from 2006 to 2016.
I got to know Paul through his work on the executive side of things and it was obvious he knew what he was doing. No mysteries, no second-guesses, no anything like that. He knew the answer to pretty much everything relating to the business end of the sport, both at the territorial level and nationally, even on the umpiring side. That was a big help as I got to know the ropes of what it was like in the NWT.
Suffice it to say that it was much different than Ontario. Less bureaucracy, for one, and even though it was a lot smaller in terms of the numbers, it was still an important job. If I screwed up — of if anyone else did, for that matter — he would let you know. Not necessarily in an angry way but in a way where you knew you would have to pick up your drawers and do better. Some would look at it as a power trip but I looked at it as love of the sport. You don’t want to rip on someone who’s volunteering but you want them to remember that you offered to do the job so at least look like you want to do it.
When I ascended to the presidency of NWT Softball in 2009, it was a big jump because I had never run a sport organization of any sort before that. Paul was a huge help in making sure I knew as much as I needed to in order to do the job properly. If I didn’t know anything, I would defer to Paul because there was a very good chance he would know.
One of the better moments I was involved in happened in 2013 when Yellowknife hosted the Softball Canada annual general meeting for the first time. The annual general meeting is also when Softball Canada hosts the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and those of us among the board, excluding Paul, agreed that we would put Paul forward as a nominee for the builders’ category. That was also the same year we wanted to nominate the late Floyd Daniels alongside Paul but Floyd wouldn’t do it, saying there were people more worthy than him. He told me so himself.
You’ll never convince me there is anyone more deserving than Floyd Daniels to go into the Hall of Fame but Paul is right up there beside him and I’m glad he got his just due for everything he’s done and being able to play a small part in making sure he lives forever in that regard.
I also had those days as an umpire where Paul was pitching and he would let me know vocally if things weren’t going his way. He and I had a few tete-a-tetes, nothing nasty or dirty, but he’s an intense player and he wanted to win. What’s good about Paul is that he never brought it off the diamond. What happened on the field stayed on the field, as it always should. Not once did we ever re-hash anything that might have occurred in a previous game.
There is no denying Paul Gard loves softball. He has had his hand in almost everything having to do with softball in the NWT for more than 50 years as a player, coach, administrator, volunteer and, yes, even umpiring. There have been a lot of comments I’ve read, all in the positive, and for good reason. Paul always had the good of the sport in mind whenever he coached, ran a clinic, played a game, attended a meeting — anything. His final act, if you will, was as NWT Softball’s volunteer executive director but you don’t really retire from something you’ve loved. He’ll still be around, not officially, but he’ll be around.
I know he wouldn’t have it any other way.