On Sunday, they gathered for one more game for Les Eathorne.
In the high school gym that bears his name, hundreds gathered to remember Eathorne, the legendary Bremerton basketball coach and community leader who passed away July 5.
At his celebration of life, his friends and family split his 86 years into the quarters of a game for those who knew him best to talk about. They covered the gym floor with memorabilia chronicling his more than 500 coaching wins, which made him the eighth-winningest in state history.
They even set the scoreboard to 3:33 — a superstitious time of his in which the players left the floor in every warmup for a talk before each game. The score, too, showed “49,” for the year he started coaching, and “88” for the year he retired.
Les Eathorne grew up in depression-era Bremerton, and, as a teen, led the Bremerton Wildcats to a state championship in 1941. He’d never forget his coach, Ken Wills, who he decided to follow into the coaching realm.
Graduating in 1942, he got a scholarship to play at the University of Washington, where he played for one year before joining the army. He was ill for most of his time in the army, said Eathorne’s son, Mark.
Eathorne started coaching and teaching in Camas in 1949.
There, he stayed for seven years, in a place at the time where “basketball was something you did to stay in shape for football,” recalled Camus alum Tom Wallenborn.
Wallenborn recalled that Eathorne got the elementary kids playing basketball early on. Practices for the high schoolers ran from 3 to 5 in the afternoons, and he’d always work one-on-one with a player afterward, he said.
“It was always fun to play for Les,” he said.
But he would return to Bremerton when East High School opened in 1956. Though he had a great job and life in Camas, Mark Eathorne said he moved because “he really loved Bremerton.”
There, he helped the Knights to back-to-back state championships in 1973 and 1974. He was also named Athletic Director of the Nation in 1976.
“If there was a Mr. Basketball for Bremerton and for Kitsap County, it’s Les Eathorne,” Wallenborn said.
But Mark Eathorne added that it wasn’t just a love of basketball that drove his father — it was a devotion to all sports. Les Eathorne coached track, freshman baseball and football. His son remembers one day that the family got a new Canadian cable TV channel, and his father was soon glued to curling competitions.
He taught more than PE, too. There was driver’s education during the summers that he cherished, along with public speaking and even Washington state history, those in attendance said.
Mark Eathorne said his father was often stoic, much like others in his generation. Haircuts were clean, swearing was unheard of, and crying was not for the public to see.
Yet when it came to basketball teams, he filled them with young men who weren’t necessarily the best players, but who were the best people, his son said.
Rick Torseth told the gathered crowd about Eathorne’s timeout chats with his players. They always ended with the same slogan.
“As that fire burned in his eyes, he would say to you, ‘You can do this,’” Torseth said.
One memory evoked during the celebration was an interview Terry Mosher conducted with Eathorne. Mosher asked Eathorne what he would put on his own tombstone.
“He tried,” Eathorne told Mosher. “That is the way I always did it. I tried.”
Donations can still be made to the Les Eathorne Scholarship Fund at P.O. Box 1571, Silverdale, WA, 98383.
Make checks to Sports Beyond or donate online by clicking here.
Donations are tax-deductable through Sports Beyond which is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. All proceeds go to the annual scholarships given to Bremerton student-athletes from the high school basketball teams.