New coach taking the reins from a legend with Windsor High boys basketball

By BENJAMIN ROSENBERG

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 12-03-2022 2:00 AM

WINDSOR — There’s a different vibe inside Harry Ladue Gymnasium as fall turns to winter this year.

The Windsor High boys basketball team, like always, is preparing for a new season. But for the first time in 39 years, the gym’s namesake is not leading the Yellowjackets.

Ladue and his top assistant, Don Swinyer retired at the end of the 2021-22 season, ending a run that included five state championships, 473 wins and 14 trips to Barre Auditorium. That kind of success and continuity makes any major change hard, so Windsor promoted from within, elevating Larry Dougher, who coached the junior varsity squad for the last 12 years, to varsity head coach.

“Harry always told me that I would take over when he left,” Dougher said. “I did not expect it to be this long, but it’s here now, and I’m happy that it’s here now. It’s hard to walk away from a game you love, and Harry obviously loved basketball and loved the kids.”

Dougher grew up in Windsor and played for Ladue and Swinyer before graduating in 2000. He returned to the Upper Valley immediately after earning a degree in history at the University of Maryland, and began coaching in 2005 as the JV head coach and a varsity assistant at Stevens under Bill McIver.

After five years in Claremont, Dougher was wooed back to his alma mater by Ladue, with Swinyer leaving the head JV job to focus more energy on assisting Ladue at the varsity level. Dougher helped prepare his JV players for Ladue’s high-powered offensive style of basketball — “Embrace the Pace” has long been one of the program’s slogans. Windsor ended a 10-year championship drought with Ladue’s fifth title in 2018.

“Harry gave me a lot of freedom, especially near the end, to experiment and find my own tactics and coaching style,” Dougher said. “He was a great boss. Whenever I needed advice — and I’m sure I’m going to call him up this year — he was there, but he didn’t give you advice unless you asked for it.”

Away from the court, Dougher has held several roles with the Windsor School District, serving as director of technology before 2013, then chief information officer for eight years. He took over as director of finance and operations in the fall of 2021.

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The Yellowjackets have fallen on some leaner years since that 2018 championship and were just 9-12 last winter, though they did pull off a first-round playoff upset of Northfield before falling in the VPA Division III quarterfinals to Hazen in Ladue’s final game on the Windsor bench. Dougher was announced as Ladue’s successor less than two weeks after the end of last season.

“We always want the best candidate, but if the best candidate you have has worked for you for 12 years, it’s pretty simple,” Windsor athletic director Jim Taft said. “Larry had the advantage of being mentored by Harry, so he got to learn from the best. He’s very energetic, very organized and very skill-based at practice.”

Dougher’s players said he gives the Yellowjackets more freedom to run their own plays in games compared with Ladue, but his practices are more about drills than scrimmaging. Windsor returns leading scorer Maison Fortin (16.8 points per game last year), also the quarterback of the football team who led the Yellowjackets to back-to-back state titles on the gridiron.

Key starters Kaleb Swett and Austin Gauld have departed, but Fortin’s fellow seniors Travis McAllister and Rodger Petermann will also play important roles.

“Harry will set an offense and he wants us to run it, but Larry will let us play whatever we want to run,” Fortin said. “We’re being coached, but we’re just playing basketball and having fun. We also try and make the practices harder than the games. A lot more running, less standing around, but a lot more fun.”

During his JV tenure at Windsor, Dougher had multiple varsity head coaching offers, but turned them all down due to Ladue’s commitment to Dougher succeeding him.

His practices involve a lot of shooting and full-court transition work, trying to replicate game situations as closely as possible.

Dougher said it is weird to return to the gym the week after Thanksgiving without Ladue, but his intimate familiarity with the program should make for a smooth transition.

“I wonder if it feels odd for him,” Dougher said. “But Harry and I have had a lot of talks about this over the years. It’s what he wanted, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. I feel more excited than strange.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.

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