ELLSWORTH — Win or lose, Stu Taylor was at home at Ellsworth High School.
A lifelong Downeast Mainer who lived and breathed the game of basketball, there were few things in life more satisfying than nights spent coaching from the baseline in the Ellsworth High School gymnasium. No matter his calling, Taylor built lifelong winners wherever he went.
Taylor, a former coach, teacher, administrator and principal at Ellsworth High School, passed away June 26 at the age of 87. The EHS icon leaves behind a legacy that inspired those he knew in basketball gymnasiums and beyond.
“I don’t think I know anyone who would say a single bad thing about Stu Taylor,” said John Linnehan, who played under Taylor at Ellsworth from 1964-66. “Everyone has their flaws, but with Stu, I cannot think of one single thing.”
Taylor, whose coaching career began in 1957, came to Ellsworth in 1960 after brief stints at Jonesport-Beals and Machias. His arrival came six years after Charlie Katsiaficas led the Eagles to the second of back-to-back state championship with a squad so dominant it was eventually inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.
“Stu came in and had big shoes to fill right away,” Linnehan said. “Those teams in ’53 and ’54 were some of the best in Maine history. It’s always hard to replace a legendary coach.”
Taylor, who frequently told a story comparing his first time in Ellsworth’s gymnasium to “walking into the Boston Garden,” quickly became a legend in his own right. In 1964, Ellsworth won the Class B title with a 55-52 win over Winthrop. Two years later, the Eagles did it again with a 72-53 win over Cape Elizabeth.
Playing for Taylor meant giving a total team effort. Such was clear with Ellsworth’s 1965-66 team, which capped off a dominant season with a 72-53 win over Cape Elizabeth in the Class B championship game to win the team’s last state title in the sport.
“We had four players in double figures every game for the entire season,” Wayne Mayo, a senior on Ellsworth’s 1966 team, said when the team was recognized as part of a 50-year anniversary celebration in 2016. “That’s something the team hasn’t had since.”
At that reunion, Taylor and six of his title-winning players got the chance to show off their Gold Ball and state championship banner once again. After the ex-coach hoisted the trophy before the crowd, Linnehan presented his old state championship letter jacket for him to wear.
“I took it off and gave it to Stu, and he put it on,” Linnehan said. “It was a great moment. I think it might be my favorite memory of Stu. I know it was one of his favorites, too.”
Although Taylor left Ellsworth to become dean of students and men’s swimming coach at Husson College following the 1969-70 high school basketball season, he decided just two years later that it was time to return. He remained at EHS as assistant principal, athletic director and, eventually, principal until his retirement in 1987.
As athletic director, Taylor made one of the most important decisions in Ellsworth High School history in 1973 when he hired Brian Higgins, who would guide the boys’ soccer team to four Class B titles and become winningest coach in state history. Ellsworth also won multiple state titles in baseball (1983 and 1987), boys’ cross-country (1976, 1977, 1979 and 1981) and girls’ cross-country (1977 and 1978) under Taylor’s watch.
Even after Taylor’s retirement, the impact he had on the lives of many at both the high school and in the Ellsworth School Department as a whole were never forgotten. That’s why, in 2010, Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School dedicated its newly renovated gym as Stuart C. Taylor Gymnasium in his honor.
“It was a fitting tribute to him,” said Linnehan, who was in attendance at Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School that day as his former coach was given a piece of the high school’s old gymnasium floor. “He loved being there in that a gym and that feeling of coaching in those big games. It was great to see him be a part of that.”
Taylor, who said at the 2016 reunion that his success was owed “80 percent [to] the players, 10 percent [to] the coaching and 10 percent [to] luck,” was hardly one to take the credit. Yet whether through making a gymnasium his namesake, reliving a championship moment and telling new generations of his exploits, Ellsworth has assured him of a permanent place in school and community history.
“We won games, but what we learned from Stu is that the score isn’t what makes you a winner or loser at life,” Linnehan said. “He made everybody who met him a better person.”