Sunday was a big day for a number of people. On March 23, 1974, East Bremerton won the state basketball championship, taking down Foster 77-52 at Logger Fieldhouse on the University of Puget Sound campus.
East could have easily had a three-peat. The Knights lost the 1972 state title game to Ellensburg. 67-59 after leading by as many as eight in the fourth quarter. They won the 1973 state title, losing only once all season and beating Timberline 54-52.Basketball was a saving grace for many of the kids who gathered in November of 1973 at the East Bremerton High School gym for the start of another basketball season under coach Les Eathorne. One player had been moved by his mother from unhealthy circumstances in Chicago to West Sound several years earlier. One had arrived from California for likely the same reason. One moved out of his house his senior year and took safety at a friendly neighbor’s home to escape his family’s dysfunction. Several others lived a high-wire existence in their homes. Even Rick Walker was not immune. Before his sophomore season his parents divorced — an amicable one, he says — but it still had an impact on him.
“It was a tenuous time for him,” said former teammate Rick Torseth when I caught up with him in London where he had just arrived on business. “The time he was in the gym and with Les has a lot to do with who he is today.”
Walker runs non-profit Sports Beyond and does missionary work through his church with Spanish Basque kids.
Most of the players on the ’74 team grew up playing against each other or with each other from peewee ball. They had the good fortune to have as their coach — Eathorne — a man that had a huge influence on Bremerton kids.
“Coach Eathorne kept in touch with us throughout the school day,” said Bryan Garinger, who was one of the starters on the 1974 team. “He was just a marvelous human being. He was like a second father to us in a way. I came from a family that had been divorced and didn’t have a father who was close to me. Walker struggled some with his parents. A lot of players went through hard times, and basketball is what we had and what we leaned on in our young lives.”
Eathorne held open gyms on Tuesdays and Sundays and kids who never played high school basketball flocked there like they were following the Pied Piper. For the kids who were on the 1974 team, it was a safe haven for most of them. Their troubles at home were washed away by the community and the love Eathorne gave them.
Those kids with the greatest need were Ray Hackett, Garinger, Henri Campbell and Oza Langston, who came up from California and lived with his grandparents.
“Oza is in Denver (selling insurance) and is doing real well,” said Campbell, who was always with Langston as they came through the Bremerton School District system. “If you could find Oza, you would find me.”
Langston was pretty closed mouth about his background, according to Campbell.
“He really didn’t want to talk about his upbringing and his mom and things like that,” Campbell said. “I do know he had a rough childhood from what I already knew.”
Hackett’s life was also not good.
“Ray had a rough life,” Torseth said. “None of us could identify Hackett’s parents.”
Hackett, who started on the 1974 team with Walker, Mark Eathorne, Garinger and Campbell, apparently did odd jobs around town for rest of his life. Coach Eathorne used to keep him busy with odd jobs around his house. In Sept. 18, 2007, he rode off on his bike and suffered a massive heart attack that took his life. It was a sad and tragic ending for a guy who was a big part of a dream team.
Campbell’s brother got into trouble in Chicago and his mother gathered up her younger son and headed west. She had options for jobs in California and at Keyport and choose the latter when Henri was in the seventh grade.East graduated four starters off the 1973 team and two other reserves. Walker was expected to be a key player as he was all-state the year before. Olson, who was the sixth man on the title team, was also expected to be key player, but he suffered a knee injury before the season and would hardly play at all, putting the onus on Walker to carry a rebuilt East team.
Unlike the ’73 team, which relied on six guys to blow teams out and then turn it over to the bench, this team had Walker and a supporting cast of 11 players rotating in and around their star. Larry Lindberg and Langston came in to replace Hackett and Eathorne, Leonard Barnes replaced Walker, and Jeff Hayford, Torseth, Art Wischhoefer and Johnny Golden filled in where necessary.
That 1974 season only had one blemish, an Olympic League loss at North Kitsap under its first-year coach Jim Harney.
At state, they then ran into the Cleveland team that had been given the nickname “Super Sophomores” in the state semifinals at Logger Field house.
“The game against Cleveland was our finest moment,” Torseth said, “because we had no business being on the court with them at some level. But we had more experience and those kids were just sophomores. We had better discipline, basketball knowledge and court sense then they did.
“I’ll never forget that Les got Larry Jackson (6-10 OC player who would play at Washington) and (6-8) Brant Gibler (and others) in the gym the week before to allow us to play against taller guys, and it paid off.”
Walker scored 29 and the Knights turned back those super sophomores 79-73 to advance to play Foster for the title. They routed the Bulldogs, running up a lead over 30 points before backing off.
“That team helped us grow up and forget about the things we had around us,” Campbell said. “It was an escape. It helped me get through the struggles with what happened to my brother. I wanted to be better then that. I didn’t want to go down the same avenue.”
Campbell, who works for a contractor in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, did get in trouble later in life, and says he is ashamed of what he did, but is thankful his teammates continued to show support for him.
“I appreciate them,” he said. “They are my brothers. Oh man, I’m telling you, I can’t stop thinking about it. From where I came from and where I ended up, I’m just really blessed.
Trouble is still brewing. Garinger, who retired from Boeing a year ago, has been diagnosed with appendix cancer, had surgery to remove part of his colon, and is receiving treatment. He is optimistic that he will make a full recovery, and continues to be a big part of the small group that puts together the annual Les Eathorne Golf Classic at Gold Mountain golf Complex.
This year’s tournament is slated for June 27, which is the weekend of the 40th reunion of the 1974 East High class. The reunion will be held June 28 at Kitsap Golf & Country Club.
No doubt the 1974 team and its cast of characters will be a big topic of discussion.
Terry Mosher is a former sports writer at the Kitsap Sun who publishes The Sports Paper at sportspaper.org. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Article courtesy of the Kitsap Sun)