By Greg Gielczyk
LUDINGTON–Joe Lancour’s baseball jersey number was retired years ago, but when it came time for the Ludington baseball team to pass out uniforms this spring one of the players wanted that number.
He wasn’t aware of the background of the former Oriole standout, who displayed a toughness and heart that far surpassed is physical stature both on the baseball diamond and the football field during his high school days.
So baseball coach Evan Kroeze came up with the idea to honor the late Army Specialist, a 2004 LHS graduate who was killed in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan when his patrol was ambushed on Nov. 9, 2007 prior to the Orioles baseball game on April 7.
It was moved to April 19, and Joe’s father, Rob was present to throw out the first pitch before Ludington took on Lakes 8 Activities Conference foe Muskegon Catholic Central at Don Stokley Diamond.
“We got new uniforms this year for the first time in awhile, and I let seniors pick out numbers,” said Kroeze. “Not a lot of kids knew that No. 3 was retired, Joe’s number.
“Just as the years go by I think it (the memory) has faded a little bit. I played at Ludington, I grew up here, so I was used to it. Joe was a little older than me, but we still knew the story.
“I just kind of reached out, just kind of put it together and they loved the idea, and one thing led to another. You could feel the emotion on the field. It definitely was a special moment.”
A banner now hangs on the centerfield fence at the baseball diamond in recognition and memory of Spec. Joseph Lancour’s ultimate sacrifice while serving his country.
Lancour’s football jersey No. 80 is also retired.
“Joe Lancour was a tough, undersized kid that gave maximum effort on each and every play,” said Orioles football coach Charlie Gunsell.
“He was a young man that was not the most talented kid on the roster, but certainly a young man that worked harder than anybody.”
Lancour’s passing shook the Oriole athletic family to its core, and put athletics into its proper perspective.
Winning and losing on the fields of athletic endeavor pale in comparison with being wounded or dying on the fields of battle in defense of the United States.
“Joe made a decision that most people would not, defending the country knowing what the possible outcomes may be,” added Gunsell.
“When we lose former players, or anybody for that matter, it makes me realize losing an athletic event is not that big of a deal. I’m sure most coaches, parents and players would trade a Friday night loss to see their loved one again.”
Gunsell added that sometimes as coaches, players and parents everyone places too much pressure on themselves while competing in high school.