Famed coach, referee Charlie Katsiaficas dies at 82

Posted Jan. 21, 2009, at 9:32 p.m.

Bruce Anderson was a young basketball referee who wanted to pick the brain of the man he was working with, a highly respected veteran who would eventually be enshrined in the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.

“We did a game down at MDI [Mount Desert Island] and, after the game, I asked him if there was anything he could tell me to help me become a better official,” recalled Anderson.

“He said ‘Yeah, take the whistle out of your mouth when you throw the ball [up for a jump ball] or you’ll lose your teeth,’” said Anderson, chuckling.

The veteran referee was Charlie Katsiaficas.

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Katsiaficas died on Monday after battling Alzheimer’s disease for several years. He was 10 days shy of his 83rd birthday.

Katsiaficas, the son of Greek immigrants from Nashua, N.H., made his mark as a coach at Ellsworth High School and as a basketball referee at the high school and college levels. He was also a baseball umpire.

He only coached the Ellsworth boys basketball team for five years but led the Eagles to undefeated back-to-back state Class L championships in his second and third seasons and berths in the New England Championships.

After reaching the New England quarterfinals in 1953, the Eagles made it to the semifinals the following year, losing a heartbreaker to a powerhouse Hillhouse team from New Haven, Conn., 54-53.

“Hillhouse had 3,000 students and we had 295,” recalled former Ellsworth star Terry Spurling. “[Ellsworth great] Jack Scott fouled out at the start of the fourth quarter. Hillhouse went on to win [the championship game] easily the next day.”

Spurling feels the outcome might have been different if Scott hadn’t fouled out.

“Charlie Katsiaficas put Ellsworth on the map,” said longtime basketball coach and referee Bob Cimbollek, who was a player at Bangor High when Katsiaficas was coaching his Ellsworth teams.

“He brought full-court pressure defense to Maine. He was a fiery coach who stressed in-your-face defense and really getting after it,” said Cimbollek. “His teams were really tough to play against.”

Spurling, who played for Katsiaficas for three years, said his coach was “ahead of his time.”

“I learned more from him than any coach I ever played for,” said Spurling. “He was very intense and worked awfully hard.”

“We complained a little bit at the time, but after playing for him, we realized how fortunate we were to have someone as demanding and knowledgeable as he was,” added Spurling.

Spurling said his teams had some “awfully quick kids” and the full-court pressure and trapping defenses played to their strengths.

“I remember going up to play Presque Isle one year. Dwight Hunter played for them and we jumped out to a 20-0 lead. They never got the ball past half-court [at that point],” said Spurling.

Cimbollek recalled ending Ellsworth’s 53-game winning streak in 1955, but it was a loss to Ellsworth that also sticks out in his mind.

“We came out of the locker room after the game and he had them out there practicing,”

remembered Cimbollek.

“That upbeat style and aggression went along with his personality,” said State Basketball Commissioner and longtime referee Peter Webb. “He had an aggressive personality and whatever he tackled, he went all- out.”

Spurling said Katsiaficas was a disciplinarian who insisted that they stay out of trouble and keep up with their schoolwork.

He also said Katsiaficas was the same type of referee as he was a coach.

“He had the same intensity. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He worked hard on the court and he was in charge,” said Spurling.

Webb looked up to Katsiaficas and eventually worked with him. It left a lasting memory because Katsiaficas took time to help young officials.

“He was good about that. When you have somebody who accomplished everything he did yet still be willing to encourage a rookie official, that is really meaningful,” said Webb. “He didn’t have to do that. He was a positive influence on me. When he told you he thought you were going to be fine and to keep it up, that was certainly a confidence builder.”

“He was a legend,” said Anderson. “His sons were great basketball players and then his grandkids came along. The Katsiaficas name is synonymous with basketball in the area.”

In December 2006, the Ellsworth High School gym was named in his honor.

Not surprisingly, Katsiaficas produced a number of players who went on to become successful coaches like Scott, Spurling, Tug White and Gerry Kane.

“He was the single biggest influence on my life and I probably wouldn’t have gone into coaching if I hadn’t played for him,” said Spurling.

Katsiaficas was an outstanding athlete who attended the University of New Hampshire and captained the basketball team.

He received his master’s degree at Springfield College where his thesis was entitled “The Mechanical Analysis of the One-Handed Pushshot.”

He was also an assistant coach at American International College in Springfield.

He came to Maine in 1951 and transformed a 2-16 team into a 16-2 club his first season before back-to-back 22-0 seasons leading up to the New England Championships. They were 13-5 his fourth season.

He told the Bangor Daily News his philosophy was to have “at least three sophomores in your initial year and then repeat the process each year after that.”

He was also a teacher and, after ending his coaching career, he eventually became a successful insurance agent.

He founded the Katsiaficas Insurance Agency and eventually added the Katsiaficas Real Estate and Travel Agency to his resume. He owned hotels and developed commercial and residential real estate.

He was also very active in the community and was a member of several clubs, including the Ellsworth Jaycees and Ellsworth Lions Club.

Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at the First Congregational Church in Ellsworth. Visiting hours will ne 3-5 p.m. Sunday at Jordan-Fernald Funeral Home in Ellsworth.

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