DEXTER, Maine — Ed Guiski’s work on the bench began long before seatbelt rules and defined sideline boxes limited the charismatic offerings of high school basketball coaches.
When bringing his Dexter basketball teams out to their seats before a game, one of the first things Guiski typically did was spread powder over a portion of the hardwood in order to provide his players the best traction possible during an era when Chuck Taylor Converse All-Stars were the footwear of choice.
The floor may have just been swept, leaving some to lament what they saw as a sudden mess.
Guiski’s 6-foot-4-inch frame and sometimes fiery bench demeanor added an imposing physical presence as he readied his milltown lads for battle.
It was a scene opponents loved to hate.
“He was the villain of all villains,” said Peter Murray, who played against Guiski’s teams while a student at Schenck High School in East Millinocket. “Back then, the rivalry between Dexter and Schenck was probably second only to the rivalry between [former Schenck coach] Ron Marks and Ed Guiski. The fans up there loved to torment Ed, and Ed was great at playing the villain.”
A few years later, Murray met Guiski in a different light, as an aspiring teacher and basketball coach newly hired to work at Dexter, and that first impression was forever shattered.
“That’s the paradox of Ed Guiski,” said Murray, now in his 21st year as Dexter’s head coach after replacing his mentor in 1994. “I had this vision of him growing up, and then when I got to know him a little later, he was the complete opposite of what I thought, my perception of him was completely wrong. He really was a teddy bear.”
Guiski died in Florida recently at age 77 after a long battle with cancer, with the 2012 Maine Sports Hall of Fame inductee leaving behind a considerable legacy as an athlete and coach, as well as the persona of a friendly family man and colleague with a subtle sense of humor.
“I’ve heard him described as a gentle giant, and there’s really no better way to describe him,” said Skip Hanson, who coached against Guiski during the 1970s at rival Foxcroft Academy. “When you saw him talking with his kids on and off the court, he was just a real gentleman. His players probably feared him a little bit, but they loved to play for him.”
Those who knew Guiski well say the competitive fire and work ethic that eventually helped the Winslow native earn a tryout for the 1960 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team provided the foundation for a 31-year coaching run at Dexter that produced 329 victories.
Guiski guided the Tigers’ boys varsity for 26 years, a tenure highlighted by the 1986 Class B state championship, as well as Eastern Maine crowns in 1985 and 1986. He retired from coaching in 1993 but returned after a brief respite to coach the Tigers’ girls basketball squad for several seasons.
The gymnasium at the school is named in his honor.
“What I remember most about Ed was his grit and determination,” said Eric Haley, who played for Guiski during the early 1970s and now is superintendent of schools in Waterville. “He had a great ability to work through a tough situation and know at the end that hard work was going to pay off. Ed was able to instill that belief in the players he coached because that was the way he was.”
Haley perhaps epitomized that belief. As a 6-foot center, he routinely faced players several inches taller but used the lessons taught by Guiski to turn what others saw as a lack of height into an advantage.
“Ed had the knack for getting every ounce of ability out of his players, especially his big men,” said Hanson.
“We worked a lot of basketball camps together, and one thing we talked about was that he never advocated for a kid to specialize in one sport. He wanted Eric Haley, for example, to play football and basketball because he could see the transfer of skills to all the sports.”
That belief in versatility was forged through his own athletic upbringing in another Maine milltown.
Guiski grew up a local legend, earning a stunning 16 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball and track before graduating from Winslow High School in 1955.
After a postgraduate year at Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Guiski earned an athletic scholarship to Boston University where he played football and basketball for two years before joining the Army. While in the military from 1960 to 1962, he made the final cut of 10 Army candidates for the 1960 U.S. Olympic Basketball Team.
After leaving the Army, Guiski enrolled at Gorham State Teachers College (now the University of Southern Maine) where he still holds the school record for his career average of 15.2 rebounds per game. He was inducted into the school’s Husky Hall of Fame in 1988.
Guiski took his first coaching and teaching job at Windham in 1964, then moved with his wife Janet in 1967 to Dexter where they raised three children — Pamela, John and Alex — and he taught physical education and developed a basketball program known for hard-nosed defense and intensity.
“One thing I learned from him,” said Murray, “is that most true coaching takes place in practice so you really have to be meticulous about how you plan practice, because once you get to the game it comes down to the execution from the kids.”