DALTON -- Edward J. Ladley, one of the more well-respected and skilled high school coaches in the history of Berkshire County, announced his resignation from the Wahconah Regional boys basketball head coaching job on Monday.
"I'm not using the word ‘retirement,' " said Ladley on Monday evening. "We all go to work someplace every day. I'll still be a part of the team."
In 42 seasons at the helm, Ladley has won 516 games, eighth best among Massachusetts coaches. He has taken the Warriors to 32 postseason appearances in 42 years, won 60 postseason games, and gone to the Western Mass. finals 13 times. The Warriors have won five Western Mass. titles, and one state championship in 1987.
Ladley will serve as an assistant coach to Dustin Belcher. Belcher worked at Ladley's side as an assistant for 12 years.
"I will miss that environment of having complete control," said Ladley. "But Justin and I have been working together for 12 years. We'll get along fine."
Belcher said the transition is a matter of retaining continuity within the program.
"I don't believe it's replacing, so much as continuing," said Belcher. "We will continue the core values under which we've operated the program every year: Playing good defense, playing hard every night, playing as a team."
Belcher added that he was comfortable with the arrangement.
"I've been sitting next to him for the past 12 years," said Belcher, "and I think it's kind of neat, because he'll be working with our post players and scouting for us, something he's very good at."
Ladley is a 1958 graduate of St. Peter's High School of Long Island, and a 1962 graduate of Niagara University. A multi-sport athlete, Ladley was also offered a contract to play in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 1962, which he turned down.
After college, he entered the United States Air Force, and was hired as a English and physical education teacher at Wahconah in 1969 after his discharge. In 1970, he was hired as the school's basketball coach, for which he was initially paid $975 annually.
Ironically, Ladley was, initially, criticized for being unable to win the big game. The Warriors lost three consecutive Western Mass. championship games in the early 1980s.
Even at the occasion of his greatest triumph -- an amazing comeback from 19 points down with 4:47 left in the game to defeat Boston Tech for the Division II state title in 1987 -- he admitted to then-Eagle sports editor Bob McDonough that it was in the back of his mind.
"I saw you across the court," he said to McDonough, "and I could see the headlines in The Eagle now: ‘Ladley got to the big time and couldn't handle it.' "
But as his team began to come back from that deficit, Ladley told McDonough, "I began to think, ‘Hey, maybe we can win this.' "
They did. Tech began coughing up the ball, and Wahconah began hitting shots. With seconds left on the clock, Cummington native Timo Norris put a rebound back in, drew a foul, and sank the shot to cap a 58-57 win.
Ladley is a member of the St. Peter's Hall of Fame; the Niagara University Hall of Fame; the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches' Association (MBCA) Hall of Fame and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. He has been named the Coach of the Year twice by the MBCA, and was named the WBEC Sports Caravan's Berkshire County Coach of the Year twice.
And when he steps on the court to talk to refs or his players, he steps onto the Ed Ladley Court, named in his honor in 2012.
"Ed's career at Wahconah is virtually unparalleled," said Wahconah Athletic Director Pat West. "It's quite possible we'll never see another 500-game winner again."
On Friday, Dec. 13, Ladley will be honored by the school and the community before that night's game with Lee. The ceremony will start at 7 p.m. Ladley and his entire family, including his wife Rose Marie and eight children, will be there.
"It will be a recognition of all the people who sacrificed so much for this to happen," said Ladley, a team man all the way.
To reach Derek Gentile:
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On Twitter: @DerekGentile.