1950s BASKETBALL STAR REMEMBERED: Lowell High’s Joe Ladd was Gaston County’s first 2,000-point boys basketball scorer
By Richard Walker
Before Lowell’s Holbrook High School combined with Gastonia’s Ashley High School in 1970 to form Ashbrook, the fortunes of Lowell basketball were limited to the mid-1950s.
On Wednesday, the person most responsible for the Lions’ greatest basketball success died at 85.
Joe Ladd, a 1955 Lowell High graduate, died with his family by his side.
While Ladd spent most of his life involved in competitive bass fishing, he’s still remembered fondly in Lowell for leading the Lions to its greatest boys basketball success in history.
A school that had seven winning records in 36 seasons of league competition, four regular season league titles and two tournament championships enjoyed an 80-17 record with two regular season titles and both tournament titles during Ladd’s four seasons from 1951-52 to 1954-55.
Ladd led the way by scoring 2,035 career points in his career and later playing at Wake Forest and at Lenoir-Rhyne; When he graduated from Lowell, he was Gaston County’s first 2,000-point career scorer and its all-time leading boys basketball scorer.
“He was 6-foot-6 and a giant back then,” remembers Blair Walker, a 1959 Lowell High graduate whose older brother Jerry Walker was a 1,000-point career scorer and played alongside Ladd. “Those games were the biggest thing in town back in those days. And the rivalry with Stanley was something else.”
Ironically, Blair Walker says, Ladd went to work in Stanley for J.P. Stevens for 31 years – and actually befriending many of the players he had so many contentious games against in the 1950s – while also starring for local recreation basketball teams.
A 2010 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame inductee, Ladd was born Jan. 11, 1936 in Gastonia to the late John Alexander Ladd and Lillie Dorsey Ladd. He was the brother of the late Mary Ladd Balogh and husband Joe Balogh of Michigan.
Ladd was preceded in death by his wife of 62 years, Carol Wilkinson Ladd. And his survivors include his son and daughter-in-law John Ladd and Leslie Freize Ladd of Gastonia; Granddaughter Whitney Freize of Lowell; Granddaughter Emily Ladd Arizaga and husband Jaime Arizaga Jr. of Virginia; Connee and Randy Rossier of Florida and sons Ryan and Ronnie; and Tara and Noelle Niedermeier of the late Celeste Niedermeier of Michigan.
A receiving of friends will be held Sunday, May 23rd at 2 p.m. at Alexis Baptist Church, followed by a funeral service at 3:30 p.m. with Perry Huffstetler and Zach Kennedy of Alexis Baptist Church officiating. Arrangements are made by Woodlawn Funeral Home in Mount Holly. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made in his honor to Alexis Baptist Church, where Ladd was a member for 58 years.
Ladd told the Gaston Gazette in 2010 when he was inducted into the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame that veteran coach J.V. McGinnis (a 1976 Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame inductee) deserved a lot of credit for Lowell’s 1950s basketball success.
“He started the Rex Bantams at the Rex/Ranlo Mills gymnasium,” Ladd said of McGinnis’ local youth basketball program for elementary school aged players in the 1940s. “Guys like Jerry Walker, Harvey Walker, Ted Russell, Bob Russell, Jack Spears, Jack Benoy and myself played for coach McGinnis and, basically, learned the game.”
At Lowell, Ladd played for coach Jerry Rice and he remembered Lions’ games as “must see” events.
Ladd even remembers a famous visitor being told he couldn’t get in because he hadn’t gotten to the gym early enough to get a seat.
“To get a seat, you needed to be here at least an hour before the game started,” Ladd said. Frank McGuire’s veteran University of North Carolina assistant “Buck Freeman flew in to Charlotte to come see me play one time. He got the Stanley gymnasium 15 minutes before the game started – and they turned him away.”
When Ladd won most ounstanding player honors in the 1955 Kiwanis Classic at the old Charlotte Coliseum (now Bojangle’s Arena) in a game matching top high school players from North Carolina against top players from South Carolina, Ladd received offers from 30 schools.
That included Clemson, North Carolina and Wake Forest of the ACC and Tennessee and Vanderbilt of the SEC.
Ladd chose Wake Forest to play for Murray Greason and then-assistant Horace “Bones” McKinney.
In those days, college freshman were ineligible to play for the varsity team so Ladd led the Deacons freshman with 18 points and 12 rebounds per game.
The next season, Ladd was a key reserve for a Wake Forest varsity team that finished 19-9 and lost four times to eventual NCAA champion North Carolina, including a controversial 61-59 ACC tournament semifinal loss in which Wake Forest led late in the game.
Ladd would leave Wake Forest after that season and spent his final two year at Lenoir-Rhyne when he helped the Bears advance to the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, Mo., in 1959 – the school’s first appearance – and an appearance in the league tournament finals in 1960.