John Keyes lost his left leg in the Vietnam War. But his voice was just fine.
The North Fort Myers softball coach, who passed away early Tuesday from health complications, was known by his players for his boisterous welcome greetings.
“Melinda, how are you!”
“MaKenzie, nice to see you!”
“Summer, where have you been!”
On Monday, the revered coach saw his team one last time for offseason conditioning before succumbing to an ailment inside his home. Assistant coach Scott Peterson said Keyes was battling ammonia.
Over the years, the retiree had survived bouts of esophageal cancer and stroke. Every time, Peterson said, Keyes came back to the field.
“We liked to think he had nine lives,” he said.
As a coach, he influenced each player in different ways.
Melinda Thirion said he urged her to pursue anesthesiology beyond high school. MaKenzie Peterson spoke of his encouragement. McKenzie Corbitt almost quit last season, before she said he persuaded her to keep going.
“He cared,” Corbitt said. “He knew the potential we had and how far we could go.”
He always arrived at the field with Starbucks coffee. He danced on his crutches in the weight room. Most of all, he was loud. He screamed his player’s names as they arrived to practice.
“No matter how sassy we were or the attitude we had,” Corbitt said, “he made sure we left this field with a smile on our face and made sure we never looked back.”
In his first year with the Red Knights in 2014, he coached the team to a record of 22-6 and earned conference coach of the year honors. The Red Knights reached the Class 6A finals and were LCAC champions.
In 2015, his team went 17-6 and again went deep in the region playoffs.
“He brought a whole new sense of love (to this team),” Thirion said. “He brought the best out of anyone that he possibly could.”
Keyes had 40 years of coaching experience in softball, swimming, baseball, soccer, football and basketball. Before arriving at North Fort Myers, he taught students at Falmouth High in Maine, Bishop Verot, Naples and Cape Coral.
He coached Falmouth to five state swimming championships.
In 2015, he won the Donna Newberry “Perseverance Award” from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. He was an United States Army veteran.
Thirion said he arrived at the field every day at noon.
“He gave his life to softball,” Scott Peterson said. “And he inspired these kids.”