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Times May Change; Ladue Doesn’t: Windsor Hoop Coach Still Enjoys the Game

  • Windsor head coach Harry Ladue talks to his players as the team waits to bring the ball inbounds at a Jan. 12, 1988, game. (Valley News - Stephanie Wolff)

    Windsor head coach Harry Ladue talks to his players as the team waits to bring the ball inbounds at a Jan. 12, 1988, game. (Valley News - Stephanie Wolff) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Windsor head coach Harry Ladue, center, directs his players during halftime of the game against Bellows Falls at Windsor High School in Windsor, Vt. on Feb. 16, 2013. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Windsor head coach Harry Ladue, center, directs his players during halftime of the game against Bellows Falls at Windsor High School in Windsor, Vt. on Feb. 16, 2013. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Windsor head coach Harry Ladue talks to his players as the team waits to bring the ball inbounds at a Jan. 12, 1988, game. (Valley News - Stephanie Wolff)
  • Windsor head coach Harry Ladue, center, directs his players during halftime of the game against Bellows Falls at Windsor High School in Windsor, Vt. on Feb. 16, 2013. (Valley News - Libby March)

Windsor — After all these years, the fire still burns.

When Harry Ladue was 20 years old, he started helping with the Windsor High School boys basketball program. When the Windsor basketball season began Monday night with the varsity’s opening practice session, Ladue was doing what he’s done for the last 31 years — sneakers on, whistle around his neck, coaching the boys varsity team.

“I can still run and move around, but my knees are acting up, ” said the 60-year-old Windsor native and three-sport star as a Yellowjacket.

With his day job as Windsor recreation director, Ladue has never rambled much farther out of town to this day.

Maybe Dan Gandin at U-32 has more years coaching Vermont basketball, but Ladue can’t think of anyone else who has been doing it as long. Gandin has moved around a bit, but the only moving Ladue has done has been from the famed stage at the old Torrey Gym to walk across the footbridge to the new high school, one of the best basketball venues in the state.

“I still like mingling with the kids and watching them come together,” Ladue said Monday in a phone interview.

One of the main reasons Ladue continues coaching is that he has avoided — for the most part — the sort of parental interference that has crippled other programs at other schools while forcing many of his colleagues to give up the ghost. In all his years, however, Ladue had only one incident where a family member got on his case.

“There was one time a grandfather stopped me in the hallway outside the gym and told me what a bad coach I was, and how I was not giving his grandson enough playing time,” said Ladue. “It was one of those situations where you can’t tell the grandfather just what kind of ballplayer his grandson really was.”

Later on, Ladue received a letter from the player’s mother. It was not very flattering.

“I saved it,” said Ladue with a chuckle. “Someday, I’ll sit in front of the fireplace and read the letter to my grandchildren.”

Under Ladue, Windsor basketball has been to the state semifinals 11 times, advancing to eight finals and winning four state championships. However, the last title was in 2008, and the last trip to the semifinals in Barre was 2011.

It seems the chances to return to the glory days are dwindling. It’s not that Ladue has forgotten how to coach; it’s the shrinking enrollment at the school.

“We used to usually hover around 160-170 boys, and now we’re under 100,” Ladue said. “Families are now just having one or two children.”

Even though Windsor had great success playing out of its division with its pace of play — winning a Division I state title in 1978 and even beating the Massachusetts champion at the New England tournament that same year — that all stopped in 1989 when the numbers forced the Jacks to move down from Division I.

“We just haven’t been able to play like we would like to,” Ladue said.

One of the more notable changes on the floor is the makeup of the team. Once an upperclassmen-heavy team, these days Windsor must use underclassmen in critical varsity roles instead of having the watch and learn the game from the bench.

“It used to be that unless you were someone like Josh Farnsworth, there was no way a freshman could make the team,” said Ladue.

Not anymore. Still, it was just five years ago when the likes of Jeff Danyew, James Aldrich, Sean Buckner and Bill Gokey brought the school its last title.

“That was a fun team, and they also won a cross country championship,” said Ladue, who also coached that squad at the time.

Not only have the numbers changed, but lifestyles have changed dramatically as well.

“There are just too many things to take (the kids’) focus away,” Ladue said. “We used to call each other up and meet somewhere to play basketball or baseball. Today, the kids don’t know what they are missing. Now the kids only know each other electronically. I guess that bugs me the most.”

In that world, Ladue is still old-school — he wants no part of the Facebook and Twitter world.

“I don’t even have a cellphone,” he said.

Ladue did use two freshmen last year, Mike Brady and Nick Kapuscinski, and they will be a couple of the featured players this year.

All of which keeps Ladue hoping: “When these two guys are seniors …”