Through the years Fayette County has been blessed with some outstanding basketball coaches.
One of the best guided perhaps the best start any school merger ever had.
Taylor played basketball and football for Steve Furin at North Union High School and was an outstanding player for the Rams. In his senior season basketball season Taylor helped lead the Rams to the Section 14 title. North Union lost to Glassport in the WPIAL semifinals 31-25, despite a nine point effort from Taylor.
After graduating in 1936 Taylor attended Bethany College in West Virginia. He played basketball and football two years each for the Bison before an injury cut short his collegiate career. He graduated from Bethany in 1941.
It was at Bethany he got the nickname “Horse”. After suffering a broken leg he came back and the coaches and players said he had a gait like a horse and the nickname came into play.
Taylor worked two years as a payroll clerk at the Edenborn and Gates mines after graduating from college. He taught and coached basketball for one year at Dunbar High School in 1943, serving as interim Head Coach when Bruce Shearer was recovering from surgery. He served in the Army and his tour of service included eight months duty in Japan.
Following his time in the service he worked 11 years as salesman for Proctor & Gamble and during this period entered politics and served four years as a city councilman in Uniontown. He left council after an unsuccessful bid to unseat incumbent Uniontown Tepublican Mayor J. Watson Sembower.
He lost by 500 votes. He would later say: “I don’t like to lose close ones in basketball or anything else. In fact I don’t like to lose them in any way.”
Taylor returned to the teaching and coaching profession in 1961 at North Union. He taught history and became Furin’s assistant coach in basketball. He took over the Ram’s head coaching position in January of 1963. After 29-years leading the Rams Furin stepped down because of health problems.
"I am sorry Steve had lo resign,” Taylor said at the time.,but, I am glad of the opportunity bestowed upon me and hope the people will go along with us.
“Since we are out of the section race we (assistant Coach Jim Savage) will go quite a bit with underclassman the rest of the year in something of a rebuilding program.”
Taylor received a vote of confidence from his old mentor – out going Coach Steve Furin.
"I hated to give it up. But –everything must come to an end sometime. I regret leaving my friends and opposing coaches, with whom I have been related.
"In the future North Union should have success in basketball as a number of good players are coming up and Harold (Taylor) is a good coach."
Taylor’s rebuilding program paid immediate dividends. With North Union from 1963 – 1965 he compiled a record of 59-19 with two section titles.
In its final year of existence before the merger with South Union; North Union captured the Section 10 title in 1965-66. The Rams needed a playoff with Brownsville to settle things. Brownsville had topped the 90 point total on 11 occasions, but the Rams knocked them off 57-36.
In the WPIAL playoffs North Union rallied from a 12 point deficit with three and a half minutes left and stunned Stowe 66-63. The Rams' run was stopped by Mt. Lebanon 79-54. The Rams wound up with an overall mark of 18-6.
North Union’s comeback against Stowe was a highlight that is still vivid for former North Union standout Brent Watson.
“When you are down that many points you just do whatever you can to get back in the game,” Watson explained. “Coach Taylor put the press on and the guy I remember was Ray Yauger. He came into the game and was called the anticipator on that press.
He played right in the middle and tried to catch that first pass which would be thrown near half court. I think the first time it was thrown he just flattened the guy and was called for a foul.
After that the guy didn’t show up and Ray kept stealing the ball and Jeff Collier benefited from it because he got a bunch of points off the press. It was kind of amazing.”
Following the miracle comeback Taylor marveled at the resilience of his team.
That team just won't quit.
"They've got more guts than anyone I've ever seen."
The first year of the merger that formed Laurel Highlands was 1966-67. It is unlikely any merger started with the bang LH did. The Mustangs stormed to a 23-1 record that first season. The lone loss was to Mt. Lebanon in triple overtime 82-75 in the WPIAL semifinals.
The highlight of that first season was the birth of the rivalry with Uniontown. The first meeting between the Red Raiders and Mustangs occurred on Jan. 17, 1967. The upstart Mustangs knocked off the Raiders in front of a fervent sellout throng at the Uniontown High School gym, 83-73.
Wil Robinson and Jim Hobgood ripped the Red Raiders defense for a combined 52 points. It marked the end of two great winning streaks put together by Raider teams. It was the first Uniontown home court setback in 88 games and the first section loss for the Raiders in their last 59 starts.
“I knew we were ready,” Taylor beamed after the victory. “I couldn’t hold them down at practice yesterday. There’s no need to say how big this victory is.
“It was a great team victory. If I had one big man, I’d bring Robinson outside and he would be a terrific back court player. But I guess he’s pretty terrific in there too. Hobgood beat Willie Bryant to the punch on a lot of rebounds.”
Laurel Highland bounced back from the disappointing loss to Mt. Lebanon and posted a 27-2 record in 1967-68 and defeated Cheltenham 63-56 in overtime to capture the PIAA title.
"I'm real proud of these boys, “Taylor explained after the big win. “They're all real good kids. In years past I may have given up when we were seven points behind with about five minutes left, "But not with these kids. I didn't give up, 1 had the feeling they could come back and they did."
The years haven’t dimmed the admiration his players had for Taylor.
Robinson credits Taylor with his development on and off the court.
“That is the bread and butter and that’s what makes you and breaks you after leaving high school,” Robinson said. “Either you’ve got it or you don’t and the high school coach is so important in developing people. Not only basketball skills but people skills and how you treat people and how you respond to pressure and how you respond to diversity and Horse taught us that.
“He wanted to make sure I got into college and that was most evident. He was concerned about basketball, but that wasn’t his main priority - it was to make sure that I grew up to be a man and carried responsibility and go on from there.”
"Horse was a great leader," Hobgood explained. "He almost became a surrogate father for many of us. Your high school basketball coach really is an important person in your development as a young man and has a huge influence. When you think about it you spend a lot of time with him between practice and games.
“When I think about Horse it is about the nature of the man almost over and above the coach and that’s not to diminish his coaching skills. He was just such a great guy and dependable.
“You knew he really cared about his players and we were probably a special group from his standpoint because again, it was the beginning of the jointure between the two schools and it was kind of a unique time and it was made even more so by the success we had immediately."
Taylor coached Laurel Highland’s from 1966-67 to 1981-82 and compiled a record of 320-129 at LH with seven section titles, one WPIAL title and one State Championship. He was named Dapper Dan High School Coach of the Year 1968.
Mark John took over for Taylor as LH Coach. When Taylor didn’t reapply for the job he told the Herald-Standard – “I’ve put in a lot of years and feel it’s time for a younger guy like Mark John to step in and take over.”
Taylor died of natural causes on Dec. 15, 1984 at the age of 66. He was married to Louida Jones Taylor who is also deceased. They had five children, Mrs. John (Diane) Carom, Dennis, Barry, Martin (deceased) and Jeff.