Many of us can point to one person or perhaps several people who played significant roles in our life. People who made the difference at a tipping point in our lives. Someone whose words or actions changed our attitude and the direction of our life for the better. For me, after my parents, it is a short list: a third grade teacher, a high school basketball coach, a Catholic priest and two lawyers. Each played an important role in moving me forward in the right direction.
But, only one person played a truly pivotal role in my life and January 24th is the anniversary of the death of that person, my high school basketball coach Bill Taylor.
William H. Taylor was born March 11, 1922 and died January 24, 2002 in Anacortes, Washington at 79 years of age. He was a great natural athlete who played baseball and basketball for the University of Washington He graduated from the University of Washington in 1949. He flew fighters in the Navy and eventually became my high school basketball coach in Anacortes. The town had always been a basketball town not unlike the one portrayed in the movie Hoosiers about a 1954 high school team in Indiana and the town's devotion to basketball.
Richard "Boots" Wooten had coached winning teams at Walla Walla, Sequim, Mt Rainier and Anacortes. He started the tradition of basketball madness in Anacortes. Our small gym filled to overflowing and the town emptied when the team played away. We went to state tournaments and everyone in town lived basketball.
Bill Taylor became the new coach. Bill carried on the tradition of winning teams. His high school teams won 212 games and lost only 56 during his coaching from 1946 to 1960. The town filled the small gym and the town emptied when the team played out of town with a parade of fans following them to the town where they were playing. Taylor’s teams went to the state tournament. Two years in a row his teams made appearances at the Washington State Basketball tournament and both were against Lincoln of Seattle. The second year both teams were undefeated and the game was watched by the largest crowd in the history of Heck Edmundson Pavilion with 3,000 people shut out wanting to get inside. Anacortes lost both years to Lincoln, but the Anacortes fans turned out in force to welcome them home anyway. His record of winning was so good he was named to the High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
However, what made Bill great was his character and the role model he became for us. He was a man of principle. When he disciplined a player whose relative was a political force and was on the school board, she threatened his job. He didn’t budge. Taylor was known for his civility, sportsmanship, discipline and character. He always acted as professional on the bench during games and demanded his players do the same.
When I was in the 7th and 8th grade I wanted to play basketball for Anacortes. I attended all the games and my hero's were the players. I wasn't very good at basketball, my grades were poor and I was heading for serious trouble generally. I don't know if my dad put him up to it or not, but Bill made it a point to find me and tell me he thought I had potential, but I needed to practice and bring my grades up. He took me to the gym and showed me what shots he wanted me to work on. I had dad install a hoop at home and practiced even after dark with the garage lights on all summer and kept it up. He encouraged me, gave me a purpose and got me going in a different direction.
I made the team and was captain my senior year plus led the scoring for the team, but that wasn't the most significant change he made in me. Bill was also was an adviser to the high school Key Club organized under the Kiwanis club. It was intended to teach leadership and community responsibility. Bill got me involved in Key Club. One year he took me and others to the 1952 Pacific Northwest District Convention in Auburn, Washington. As club representative, I gave a talk at the convention and before the convention was over I had somehow been elected the Regional Key Club Governor. This was the first time a Governor had been elected from our district. It was so unexpected that I had to borrow a sports coat from the father of the host family I was staying with. By coincidence his son, Norman Roberts and I ended up in the same class at Gonzaga Law School. It wasn't until a young woman at Anacortes was elected in 2002 that another Governor was elected from our district.
I went to the 9th annual convention of Key Club International in Chicago, held at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in June of 1952 where I gave a talk to the huge crowd. I remember the National President was Ted Vestal from Sherman, Texas.The position of Governor required me to give speeches around the state at service clubs, key clubs and different organizations. Bill helped me develop a speaking skill and encouraged me. We held the first ever Pacific Northwest District Convention in Anacortes which I was chairperson of and Bill was there to guide me while I developed confidence in speaking and a love of being a speaker. I was elected student body president of my high school and commencement speaker at graduation. All of this because Bill Taylor took the time to encourage me. I believe he was a direct cause of my becoming a trial lawyer, all thanks to Bill.
Lita and I are proud of having created the William H. Taylor Scholarship fund at Anacortes High School. Students exhibiting leadership, scholarship and involvement in student as well as community affairs are given college scholarship awards.
So, an encounter with man of high principle who encouraged me in the right direction at a significant time in my life changed the direction of my life. I am indebted to William Taylor for doing that for me.