PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Ed Ladley was remembered Wednesday evening as a giant of the Berkshire County sporting community.
The New England Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, legendary Wahconah boys basketball coach and educator died on Wednesday. And as word of his passing got around the county coaching fraternity, one word was on everyone's lips: competitor.
"Even when his son, Timmy, played for me my first year at Pittsfield, I remember him yelling at his players because Timmy had five 3s against Wahconah," said Ron Wojcik, now the girls basketball coach at Hoosac Valley.
"Timmy, at the time, was one of our best if not our best player, and [Ed Ladley] put his best defender on him and expected to shut him down. It was kind of funny to watch. Usually, your dad is cheering every time you make a basket, and he was over there pounding his fist and yelling at his players."
"His kids always competed," longtime Hoosac Valley boys coach Bill Robinson said. "That was a sign of Ed. Ed would never give up, never give up, not matter what the score was.
"He was a giant as far as coaching goes and what he was able to accomplish. Even later in life, he battled like crazy. You could see the fight in him all the way through.
"Every time there was a game, he was there."
For more than four decades, Ladley manned the sidelines at Wahconah Regional High School, where they named the gymnasium in his honor after his 2013 retirement from coaching.
His crowning achievement as a coach came in 1987, when his squad defeated Boston Tech for a state championship, coming from behind by 19 points in the fourth quarter to win, 58-57.
"You get there, and you always hope you can compete, and he pulled it off," Drury boys coach Jack Racette said of Ladley. "That's the kind of guy he was, though. He never stopped competing."
Racette is part of a relatively large fraternity that both played high school ball and later coached high school ball against Ladley.
"He'd never back down, and neither would we," Racette said. "We were their biggest rivals when I played. We beat them in back-to-back Western Mass championships, and he'd always say, 'We were better than you. We just didn't play well that night.' I'd say, I hope you don't play well tonight, either."
Often, after talking about Ladley's fiery competitive spirit, the next topic of conversation is his devotion to his family.
"Ed's just a great guy, super guy," Taconic boys coach Bill Heaphy said. "A family guy. My first memory of him was being a kid at church, and he'd come to Mass with all 10 or 12 kids. I'd think, 'Wait, he's the Wahconah coach. What's he doing here?' Only later did I find out he lived in Pittsfield.
"They usually came in five minutes late because I imagine it took forever to get all those kids ready. But they were always there for noon Mass."
Heaphy also played against Ladley's teams, before going to school at American International College. He returned to Pittsfield after graduation and might have started coaching even sooner than he did, if not for Ladley.
"I wanted to get into coaching, but I was in all these leagues that he was running," Heaphy said. "All the leagues around town, summer leagues and winter leagues, Ed ran just about every one of them or he was an official. He took over the Al Bianchi League in the early '80s, and I played in that league forever, and it was because of Ed.
"I had a conversation with him once, and I asked him, 'Why do you do all this?' He said, 'It's just so important for kids to be able to play the game they love to play. Plus I love it."
Eventually, Heaphy did get into coaching, and when he did he sought some guidance from the master.
"When Ed heard I got the job, he and I talked," Heaphy said. "He always gave good advice. He instilled in me confidence. He told me to be myself and be true to myself. He saw I had a love of the game, and he appreciated that. He said that would get me through tough times because, he said, there are going to be tough times. He said, 'You be you, and you'll be fine.'
"I had many conversations with him over the years, sometimes planned and sometimes unplanned, just bumping into him. Win or lose against him, he was always the same afterward. He was fiery and competitive during the game but always a gentleman afterward."
In addition to the aforementioned Tim, the Ladley children to star at Pittsfield High included three girls, Erin, Megan and Stephanie, who were inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame along with brothers Tim and Sean, in 2015. Sean went on to play collegiately at Williams.
As great a man as their father was, "Rose Marie is a saint. She's probably the rock of that family," Heaphy said.
Ed Ladley is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, who in her own way has been instrumental in the lives of Berkshire County young athletes.
"She's been running the girls league in Pittsfield forever," Wojcik said. "Mrs. Ladley has been dedicated to that and had him there for games all summer. He just loved being there. She's an amazing woman, and they're an amazing family. It's hard to put into words what they've meant to this community."
And for Mr. Ladley, who also taught physical education and worked as a high school sports official, athletics were a year-round endeavor.
"Baseball, softball, soccer — his car was like a locker room," Heaphy said. "He'd change from one sport to the next. He'd be all over the place officiating or umpiring or what have you."
For everything else Ed Ladley accomplished, for many he will always be first and foremost Coach Ladley.
"I had the utmost respect for him," Racette said. "He was a true basketball genius. … He just knew what he was doing, and he did it the old-fashioned way. Not that he didn't want to change with the times, but he knew what it took to win: Defend well, rebound well, and we'll find guys who can score.
"I don't think anybody will coach as many games as he coached and touch as many lives as he did."
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.
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