Wahconah Legend Ladley 'A Hall of Famer in Life'

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com Sports
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DALTON, Mass. -- The impact of Ed Ladley on the Wahconah community is matched only by the hole created by his passing this week.
Generations of Wahconah Regional High School students benefited from Ladley’s service as a teacher and a coach.
Generations to come will learn his name when they step into the school’s gymnasium named in his honor.
But those future students will miss out on the chance to hear this giant of the Berkshire County sports scene.
“He was a great storyteller,” said Dustin Belcher, who coached under Ladley with the Wahconah boys basketball program and succeeded his mentor in 2013.
“I remember him vividly one day [after his retirement] sitting down with the guys and talking about the [1987] state championship team. He was very proud of that team. But it was all about the kids and what they had to overcome and not giving up.”
“He had a lot of great stories, but that was one of his favorites.”
Ladley, 78, died on Wednesday at his home in Pittsfield.
Taconic boys basketball coach Bill Heaphy recalls another time that Ladley got to relive his team’s dramatic comeback from 19 points down in the fourth quarter of a state final.
“When we started doing the all-star game at the Boys and Girls Club recently, the first year I was coaching the North, and Ed was the honorary coach for the evening,” Heaphy said. “I had him tell that story to the guys, and it really perked him up.
“When I asked him to tell that story, you could just tell he got younger. His voice got louder, and the kids, they couldn’t believe the story when they heard about that deficit.”
Last winter, the school recognized another Wahconah squad that was a particular point of pride for the New England Basketball Hall of Fame coach. Belcher said it was the kind of night few who attended ever will forget.
“We were able to honor his 1993 team on its 25th anniversary of being the team with the school’s best record and which went to the state final and lost,” Belcher said. “That was really moving for our guys to see the coach on the court with those players. Some of the former players traveled quite a ways to get there.
“That’s something I’ll always be glad to have been there for … when he walked on the floor, assisted by his assistant coaches from that year. The ovation that day will stick out to me as our final real moment with him on the floor.”
Belcher said Thursday that the last 24 hours had been a time for serious reflection on that and other moments.
“Obviously, we coached together for a long time,” said Belcher, who had Ladley as an assistant on his staff when he first took the reins of the Wahconah boys program. “He was such an incredible presence in my life in terms of being a mentor. He taught me so much about how to run a program and do it the right way, how to set some core values about what you believe in and never waiver from those. Even in coaching softball, he was so instrumental in that for me.
“And, yeah, he’s a Hall of Famer as a coach, but really, he’s a Hall of Famer in every aspect of his life -- as a father and a teacher and a husband. It always came back to family for him.”
As Ladley told the crowd the night he turned over the program to Belcher in a pregame ceremony, the Wahconah community also was his family.
“As someone who has only been here for 17 years, it’s amazing to think about his 42 years,” Wahconah Athletic Director Jared Shannon said on Thursday.
And when Wahconah Principal Aaron Robb announced news of Ladley’s passing Thursday morning, there were no shortage of family members whose thoughts turned to the veteran teacher.
“A number of the staff members here were here before he retired … there are kids in this school who attended clinics he ran when they were younger, and a lot of our staff members were former students of his,” Shannon said. “What’s struck me is the number of lives he has touched, just in this school let alone around the county and around the state.”
Shannon said he has enjoyed the last few years seeing visiting basketball coaches making a point of seeking out Ladley, who always made a point of attending every game he could. And, when Wahconah was on the road, bitter rival Hoosac Valley made a special accommodation to ensure Ladley had a good seat courtside to watch the teams battle.
“That’s where the real character lessons in sport are, when you see something like that,” Shannon said. “Everyone gets heated in competition, but you see the respect people have for each other.”
Calling hours for Ed Ladley will be Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. at Pittsfield’s Dwyer Funeral Home. A Liturgy of Christian Burial will be held Monday at 10 a.m. at St. Charles Church.
At some point in the future, the school will hold a formal remembrance and invite Coach Ladley’s other family to join his Wahconah family one last time. But he won’t be far from everyone’s thoughts when the school’s athletic community gathers for football and girls soccer tournament games on Friday and Saturday.
“And we’ll have a moment of silence [Thursday] night at Unified Basketball,” Shannon said. “I think he would have been thrilled as a teacher to see Unified sports happening at our school and on his court.”
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