Bill Folsom, the former Westbrook High basketball coach, was always impeccably dressed with his navy blue sports jacket, powder blue and white striped tie, perfectly creased slacks and polished loafers.
His teams reflected his sartorial style. The Blue Blazes may have been the first high school team in the state to wear warmup jackets and pants. The players wore knee-length socks, which some teams wore in those days. The Blazes always looked sharp in pregame drills and it carried over to the game.
Folsom wanted his teams, as his son, Mark, said, “to be top shelf” in their appearance and their play.
Folsom, one of the top coaches in Maine history, died Sunday at 83 from the effects of a stroke in North Fort Myers, Fla., where he lived for 23 years.
Folsom coached 27 years, first at Orono High for eight years, then at Westbrook for 19. His teams won 392 games and four state titles. He won two state titles at Orono (1958, 1961) and two at Westbrook (1972, 1975).
After leaving coaching in 1980, Folsom served as Westbrook’s athletic director until he retired in 1987.
Folsom may have been small in stature (not quite 5-foot-8), but he stood above many coaches as a teacher of the game with a knack for getting his teams to play their best.
Folsom coached some of the state’s best players. The late Jim Veno played for Folsom at Orono. Folsom’s star cast over the years at Westbrook included Mike Mazerall, Terry Waterman, Don Douglas, Matt Donahue, Kirk Flaherty, George and Gary Manoogian, and Chris Lebel, to name a few.
In Folsom’s era, coaching multiple sports was more the rule than the exception. Folsom was also Veno’s golf coach at Orono. He also coached football and baseball at Orono, and golf at Westbrook.
“Bill was a giant among the coaching fraternity,” said Douglas, a co-captain of Folsom’s 1968-69 team. “His teams were always well prepared. For most of his career, Bill coached before the use of video. There wasn’t extensive scouting of opponents using assistants like now.
“His coaching and preparation were based on his knowledge and instinct of how to play the game. Such things as telling us to make an opponent go left because he showed a tendency to go right on his dribble, or noticing that a big man liked to take a couple of dribbles before shooting so we might be able to steal the ball. Bill pointed out those things.
“We liked to press. We would use a zone press and would spend hours on where to trap. Bill was very organized but he wasn’t stuck on one way of playing the game. He realized when he had individual talent.”
Folsom also was a player’s coach.
“He believed in letting players be players,” said Tony DiBiase, who played for Folsom’s 1972 state champions and has coached high school basketball for more than 30 years in Maine.
“Bill didn’t over-coach. He believed that players should be allowed to play. He felt basketball should be an up-and-down game. You always enjoyed going to practices and games with Coach Folsom. He made it fun. A mark of a good coach is to take a team and make them better, which Coach Folsom did.”
While winning was the goal, Folsom realized there were more important lessons to be learned. That was never clearer than in 1969.
Westbrook was taking a long bus ride home the day after losing the state final to Caribou on Mike Thurston’s halfcourt shot at the buzzer at the Bangor Auditorium.
“We were terribly discouraged, losing the game on a halfcourt heave. We didn’t want to talk to anyone,” said Douglas. “Bill knew people wanted to see the team. When we drove through Exit 8 of the Maine Turnpike, he had the bus stop and he told me and Dan Randall, the other captain, to sit at the front of the bus so the fans could see us.
“We owed them that gesture, he told us. There was a larger focus than the state championship game. It was a lesson on how to lose with dignity and keep your head high. I will never forget that.
“Bill was the great custodian of Westbrook basketball. When I made the varsity as a sophomore, I thought it was really cool to wear these spiffy new uniforms and warmups. We thought we were big shots. It was a pleasure to play for him.”
Even though Folsom liked his teams to play with a freelance style, there was no freelancing when it came to team rules.
“It was kind of the hippie era with long hair being popular when my dad coached,” said his son, Mark, who also played for his father, graduating in 1971.
“But he had strict rules on hair length. Sideburns had to be no longer than the middle of the ears and he didn’t allow mustaches. When the team’s colors changed from navy blue to powder blue, my father started wearing powder blue sports jackets. He ran a first-class operation.”
Folsom, inducted into the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, was a four-sport letter winner at Cony High in Augusta. After graduation, he served in the Navy.
He went to Portland Junior College, then to Springfield College, where he lettered in basketball and baseball, graduating in 1953 with a degree in physical education and health.
He is survived by sons Mark and Jonathan, and their wives Denise and Kelly; a sister, Marjorie; four grandchildren and one great grandchild. Folsom’s wife, Shirlee, died in 2008.
Folsom will be buried in the family plot in Augusta.
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: