King of Manitoulin fastball, Don Prescott, passes away in his 90th year

Manitoulin and Sudbury sports legend Don Prescott (seated) poses with his son Delroy and a photograph of his late wife Naida behind the Prescott Family Trophy (which is presented at the annual Mindemoya Youth Softball tournament). Don Prescott passed away on August 9, in his 90th year.

HONORA BAY—Manitoulin Island sports and education icon Don Prescott passed away on August 9 due to COVID-19 in his 90th year.

“Don was definitely an icon,” said Greg Lockeyer, of Mindemoya. “He was a very good athlete and even signed a tryout agreement with the Boston Bruins in the NHL, and he and his wife Naida were instrumental in softball for many years.”

“Don was president of the Ontario Amateur Softball Association for a number of years, one of only two people from Northern Ontario ever named as president,” said Mr. Lockeyer. “He and my dad started the Little Current Legion Branch 177 ball team that played in Espanola. In 1976 the team won the league championship with Don as the coach, my dad as the manager. I was the batboy.”

“Don was a great guy,” stated Rick Gjos, of Sheguiandah. “He put in a lot of time and many, many hours involved in the fastball league and softball on Manitoulin.”

“Don was even elected to the big board provincially for fastball,” said Mr. Gjos.

“He was a super guy and was always organizing and coaching teams. He was a very good coach, very knowledgeable about the game,” said Mr. Gjos, who played on the Little Current Legion team coached by Mr. Prescott.

“And he spent many hours umpiring ball. He gave a lot of his time to fastball and softball on Manitoulin,” said Mr. Gjos. “He was just a super guy.”

“Don was the one that kept fastball going on Manitoulin Island for many years,” said Mr. Lockeyer. “He was always promoting the game, and wanted it played the right way on and off the field. If a ballplayer had his hat on backwards, Don would say ‘put your hat on the right way.’ He taught you how to respect the game and the way it was supposed to be played.”

Mr. Lockeyer’s dad, Dubs, and Mr. Prescott, “ran the Haweater fastball tournament for a number of years. It was the biggest fastball tournament around in those days. There were usually 16 teams, maybe two from the Island among them, the competition was that good,” he said, noting teams would travel from places such as Sault Ste. Marie, Port Elgin, Sudbury and even further away to play. I remember one year in a playoff championship game on Sunday the last day of the tournament there were people all around the ballfield on Low Island to watch.”

Mr. Prescott was a member of the Manitoulin Minor Hockey Association beginning in the 1970s and for many years after.

“For myself Don was always so organized and I looked at how he would set up tournaments etc,” said Mr. Lockeyer. “And their family, Delroy and his dad, were a big part of keeping umpiring going on the Island.”

“And when you mention fastball on Manitoulin and Don’s name always comes up, you have to mention his wife Naida who kept score of all the games. She was always there with him,” said Mr. Lockeyer. Later Delroy would bring them up to watch the games at the Pearson Cup.”

“Our families were very close over the years,” said Mr. Lockeyer. “I can remember my mother and Delroy’s mother making sandwiches and boiling sausages to get the food ready for the Haweater ball tournament.”

In 2018, the first year of the annual Mindemoya Youth Softball tournament, Mr. Lockeyer and organizers of the tournament honoured the Prescott family by naming one of the championship trophies after them for their contributions to ball.

Don Prescott was inducted in the builder category of the Sudbury Sports Hall Fame in 2019 for a lifetime dedicated to enjoying sports and encouraging athletic activities as a route to positive character building.

Mr. Prescott was born in North Bay in 1932 as the eldest of Harold and Esther Prescott’s 12 children. Throughout his life he personally excelled in sports, leading his team to championships throughout his scholastic career in Gatchell and later as team captain at Sudbury Tech High School. He played hockey, basketball and football.

Sudbury’s Max Silverman, a Northern Ontario sports legend, personally recruited Mr. Prescott to play for his new Junior Sudbury Wolves and even signed a tryout agreement with the Boston Bruins. His outstanding career in sports continued in college, where he was the Ryerson hockey team’s captain. After school he continued playing sports and it was when he moved to Capreol where he became the playing coach for the Capreol Chiefs. It was there that he began what was to become a lifelong affiliation with fastball.

He began umpiring at Sudbury’s Queen’s Athletic Field, a role he continued for the next five decades, going on to call many All-Ontario and league playoff games across the province. But it was his involvement in hockey that was to lead indirectly to a 30-year career in teaching when, after leaving the Chief’s dressing room one evening, Mr. Prescott was approached by the Lo-Ellen High School principal asking if he had ever considered teaching. Mr. Prescott’s Lo-Ellen hockey team would remain undefeated at the Northern Ontario Secondary School Association championships.

In 1963 Mr. Prescott was elected to the Ontario Amateur Softball Association and found himself often as the sole Northern Ontario voice at that table, having to work his way up the ladder through three vice-president stints before becoming only the second person from the North to be elected president in 1979. One of the highlights of his amateur sports administration career was being the chef de mission (manager) of the gold medal winning Team Canada at the Pan Am Games in Puerto Rico.

He went on to be elected chairman of Softball Ontario for several years. In 1984 Mr. Prescott was awarded for his efforts with the prestigious F.R. Feaver Award, which recognizes an individual who, through their dedication, service and devotion has played a major role in the development of softball. The Ontario government awarded him the Corps d’Elite Provincial Award for Volunteerism in Sport and Fitness.

“As a 16-year-old I was fortunate to play for Don,” said Stu Thomas. “He taught us to play competitively, but also stressed fair play and sportsmanship. He was a role model for all the young men who played for him. Don was always there as a community leader and a volunteer.”

Son Delroy recalled asking his father how he felt about his long career as a coach, umpire and sports administrator. His reaction was that all the accolades were all well and good, but he was much more proud of how many of the young men he had coached through the years had turned out.

Mr. Prescott also had a 30-year teaching career, being one of the original teachers at Manitoulin Secondary School, colleague Roy Eaton told The Expositor, “Wilf Pogue had been the principal at the school in Espanola, and had been hired to be the principal at MSS. He convinced Don to be a teacher at MSS. Don was one of the earliest teachers at MSS.”

“Don was highly respected, and he was elected as an officer with the OTF (Ontario Teachers Federation) and was certainly involved in the OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation),” said Mr. Eaton. “I came to MSS in 1968 to set up the guidance department (which was finalized in 1969). Don taught drafting and was the technical studies director.”

“We were long-time friends,” said Mr. Eaton, noting, “Naida was the guidance secretary at MSS for many years.”

Even with all his sports involvement, Mr. Prescott was also a local president of Jaycees and was later made a life member and senator. He served as Master of his AF/AM Lodge and after moving to Manitoulin served as secretary-manager of minor hockey for close to 20 years.