Jim Leger is comfortable in the spotlight. As a senior captain of the Maine Black Bears, he’s a celebrity throughout the state. An obvious BMOC at Orono and a hero to youth players in rinks from Boston to Bangor.
Yet Leger has generally kept his life off the ice out of the limelight. Until now, that is. The secret’s out: Jim Leger is the recipient of the 2000 Humanitarian Award, given annually to “college hockey’s finest citizen.”
The senior from Saugus, Mass., is the fifth person to win the award, although the Humanitarian committee prefers the term “recipient,” since according to director Jeffery Millman, “all the nominees are winners.”
Leger, who excels in school as well as in the community, has never made a big deal out of commitment to volunteerism.
“I don’t volunteer to be recognized,” he said.
It was only after his school nominated Leger for the Humanitarian Award that this part of his life became public.
“We found out things about him that even we never knew he did,” said his father, Jim. “He doesn’t brag about them.”
“My reward has always been to see a smile on someone that I have helped,” said Leger, whose vocation began when attending Phillips Andover Academy.
“I was a junior at the time. The professor asked if there was anyone in class that wanted to help out with bilingual kids. We would go to the class and discuss poetry. The kids would also write poetry.”
That fueled his desire to get more involved with children, so he began working with handicapped kids, getting his fellow athletes at Phillips Andover to join him.
“We would do anything with them that they wanted,” he said of the mentally challenged kids that he worked with. “We would play with them if they wanted, or we would sit and just hang out with them.”
Leger next played for the Stratford Catillions in Ontario, and pitched in there was well. He began working with elementary school children, tutoring the ones needing special help, as well as coaching youth teams.
“You should see a hockey player coach a girl’s basketball team,” he said. “But we went to the county playoffs and we had one of the most successful teams they had in a long time.”
Leger then went to Maine, where he made the hockey team as a walk-on. He scored 20 goals and 20 assists in his four years, including nine goals and nine helpers this season. Two of the nine tallies were game-winners, and two came shorthanded.
The business major, who was voted “most inspirational” and “unsung hero” by his teammates, received the Dean Smith Award as the top male scholar athlete at Maine, compiling a 3.67 grade-point average.
Still, Leger had time to turn his volunteerism up several notches, including organizing a record-setting Toys for Tots program, serving as the Grand Marshal for the local Walk for Multiple Sclerosis, and devoting countless hours to kids in schools and hospitals in the Orono area.
“He has a special interest in helping children,” said Maine assistant athletic director Tracey Flynn. “If a volunteer is needed, Jim can be counted on to be there. Better yet, when he participates in a community service activity, he invites fellow student athletes along.”
He takes his captainship very seriously, helping teammates with their studies and offering guidance on and off the ice.
“If you have a problem with anything,” said teammate Cory Larose, the Bears’ leading scorer this season, “you just go to Jimmy.”
“The term ‘role model’ is frequently used by people who come in contact with Jim,” said co-founding trustee Nicholas Lopardo. “He truly personifies this award.”
As far as the future goes, Leger graduates in a month and says that he would like to continue playing hockey somewhere. Wherever that may be, they’ll be some lucky teammates and children.
“I plan to continue volunteering even after I graduate,” he said.
“I can’t see myself stopping.”