Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Everyone has an Ed Ladley story - and not just in basketball
Everybody had an Ed Ladley story.
If you were ever involved with the former Wahconah boys basketball coach, you had at least one — or maybe several — good anecdotes about Ed.
Ladley, who passed away last week at the age of 78, was a Berkshire County coaching legend. He was in two basketball Halls of Fame — the Massachusetts Basketball Coaches Association and the New England Basketball Halls of Fame. He led Wahconah to a state title and six Western Massachusetts crowns. But it's the stories that really tell the story.
There are a lot of those stories that come from the Wahconah state championship win in 1987. It was a game where the Warriors rallied late in the fourth quarter from a 20-point deficit to beat Boston Tech at the Worcester Centrum.
My Ed Ladley story stems from that game. I was still doing basketball games on the radio for WBRK, splitting the state championship schedule with Bob Shade. He did the Wahconah game, and I was to broadcast the Pittsfield girls state championship game which followed.
My broadcast partner was Lee Farbman, who is now an attorney in Chicago. We were busy preparing for the PHS game, talking to the coaches about last-minute strategy and I was studying the numbers to call the play-by-play.
By the time we were ready to settle into our seats, Wahconah's comeback for the ages was nearly complete.
Admittedly, I never really saw much of that game. We had Ed on during our halftime report, and my first question was "How did you do that?" And he told us.
Former Hoosac Valley boys basketball coach Bill Robinson, a longtime on-court adversary, remembers that game vividly.
"I remember sitting in my living room, listening to the radio when they're playing Boston Tech [back] when I was a kid," Robinson told me, "and how they came back and won that state championship. They had no three pointers, you're down 20 points and you start fouling guys. They start missing foul shots ... and holy cow."
Pat Duquette remembers as well, because he was there. Duquette was a key member of that team. He went on to play at Williams College and is now the coach at Division I UMass Lowell.
"It's such a nice memory, and not just for me, but for everybody who experienced it," Duquette said. "One thing I've grown to learn as you get older as an athlete and you get together with your friends, you never stop talking about your high school sports and memories — and how many of those memories involve Ed. Especially that game in 1987.
"I've been coaching and playing basketball for a long time, and that's probably the most special moment I've had."
Duquette told me that he remembered when the game went "from OK, let's play just for some respect, because it had gotten so out of hand. With four minutes left, it was a 20-something point lead," he said. "Within a minute and a half, we got together at the free throw line and said 'There's a shot we can do this.'"
The Warriors did it, won the state title. Duquette said that sometimes, his River Hawks players don't believe him.
"I've threatened to make them watch the game. They laugh. They want to see it. My sister burned it onto a DVD for me a couple of years ago. I haven't tortured them yet, but I've had a couple of them ask me to watch it," he told me, when we spoke while he was on a recruiting trip in Kansas. "They don't believe it when I tell them we were down 19 points with 3 1/2 minutes to play and no three pointers. Some day, maybe when we're on a road trip to Maine, I'll pop it in the [video player]."
Ed Ladley might have been known as a basketball coach. In his heyday, he was an official in three sports. A big soccer game would find him on the field. He'd have the whistle on for a big girls' hoop game — as long as his daughters weren't playing. And in baseball, he was as good as it got.
I remember current Oakland A's coach Darren Bush, who managed the Berkshire Black Bears of the Northeast League, once telling me that Ladley had the best strike zone of every umpire that came to Wahconah Park. The league used to hire one local umpire to make up three-man crews.
Baseball was big in his life.
"As we started to compile a list of professional baseball players from Berkshire County, I was 'reminded' that I missed Ed Ladley. Impossible," Larry Moore wrote to me in an email. Moore, who is the director of the Baseball in the Berkshires Museum was a former colleague of Ladley's in the Central Berkshire Regional School District.
Ladley played for the Brooklyn Dodgers rookie team, and in fact, his Dodgers jacket was donated to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
"I was soon to learn about a new chapter in the Ladley chronicles. Ed always seemed to have the last story," Moore wrote. "Something that just left us shaking our heads or left us thinking for the rest of the day."
Bill Robinson had one more baseball story.
"I remember going in 1982, we played Greenfield in the Western Mass. baseball [championship game] at Wahconah Park," Robinson said with a laugh "Lo and behold, Ed Ladley's got the game behind the plate. I was like 'You've got to be kidding me.'
"I couldn't get away from this guy."
God speed, Ed Ladley.
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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