Remembering Les Eathorne, “Bremerton’s Mr. Basketball”

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.

By Josh Farley of the Kitsap Sun

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.”

Les’ legacy

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.

Glory Years at East

Les Eathorne coached the first game of his storied East Bremerton years on December 4, 1956.

Eathorne’s glory years at East

John Wallingford — Jan 28th, 1997

By John Wallingford

Sun Staff

Les Eathorne coached the first game of his storied East Bremerton years on December 4, 1956.

The top-ranked team in college basketball then, as now, represented the University of Kansas.

Little else was the same.

The Jayhawks were led by a 7-foot sophomore named Wilt Chamberlain. The press dubbed him “the Stilt,”but he preferred to be called “the Dipper.”

Chamberlain proved he was a prodigy by any name when he scored 52 points and grabbed 31 rebounds in his varsity debut against Northwestern Dec. 3.

Abroad, the Suez Canal crisis was easing in Egypt, and Soviet tanks and troops maintained an uneasy grip on the streets of Budapest, Hungary.

The scene at home wasn’t nearly so contentious.

In Bremerton, you could buy a two-bedroom waterfront bungalow with full basement and garage on Marine Drive for $9,500 and a 10-pound bag of potatoes for 37 cents.

“Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet” dominated prime time television; “Amos and Andy” and “The $64,000 Question” were heard by legions of radio listeners.

Marilyn Monroe starred in “Bus Stop” at Port Orchard’s D & R Theater, where matinees showed for 50 cents.

It was, as Eathorne, the 73-year-old Olympic High boys basketball coach, says, “a different time.”

After seven years at Camas High, the former Bremerton star and Washington Husky grad came home to become head coach at brand new East Bremerton High School. He was 32 years old.

Reserve guard Sam Goudreau hit a long shot and added a pair of free throws to lift the Knights to a 56-53 win at Montesano Dec. 4. It was the first of more than 300 wins Eathorne would earn as the only coach in the 22-year life of East High.

That team was led by junior Lyle Bakken, a 6-foot-1 tornado with arms and legs.

“He was one of the fastest kids you’ve ever seen, a physical monster, “Eathorne said of Bakken, who played three years at Washington.

The 1956-57 Knights went 12-8, giving Eathorne his first winning season as a head coach after compiling a 52-90 record at Camas (“By the time you could spell ‘Papermakers,’ we were down by 10 points,” Eathorne says). The next year they were 25-3, and Eathorne believes that team was blessed with the most talent of all his squads.

Bakken’s mercurial play gave inadvertent birth to the wild, run-and-gun style of play that became the characteristic feature of Eathorne teams.

“We’d get a basket and Bakken would start down the floor and he would whirl around and quite often he’d intercept the inbounds pass and put it in the basket,” Eathorne said. “Well, the other kids wanted to score, so they would hang around the basket, and all the sudden we’re putting on full court pressure without the coach saying anything about it.”

The Knights’ frenetic style of basketball was the antithesis of the methodical passing game coach Ken Wills had been teaching at Bremerton since the mid-1930s.

Ruddy eyebrows arch over animated blue eyes and wire-rim glasses. His smile turns up a little at the right corner.

“”He (Wills)said ‘I spend more time on defense in one practice than you do in two weeks,’ ” Eathorne said. “The game was wild, and you never knew what was going to happen. The fans loved it. You’re the AD, and you’ve gotta make money, you need to buy shoulder pads and basketballs. You tell the basketball coach to forget what he was taught. They had 200 people at West games, and we were filling our place.”


In a three-year period from 1972-74, East was synonymous with basketball excellence.

“Just playing East creates a lot of pressure,” said Brother Pete Patitucci, whose O’Dea team fell to the Knights 84-70 in the 1974 district tournament. “There’s magic in that name.”

The Knights fell to Ellensburg in the ’72 AA championships game, then went 51-2 in the following two seasons and won a pair of state titles.

Led by forward Richard Arena, center Rick Walker and guard Clif McKenzie, East won 24 straight games, the last a 54-52 win over Timberline in the 1973 AA title game at the University of Puget Sound Field House.

When Arena, the Knights’ 6-3 senior captain, outjumped a taller opponent, ripped a rebound from his grasp and banked a follow shot through the hoop with two seconds to play, the Knights celebrated the city’s first hoop title since 1941. Eathorne was a junior when Bremerton High’s Wildcats edged John 30-29 to win Ken Wills’ only state crown.

Arena’s basket provided a dramatic conclusion to a 26-1 season. He had 23 points and eight boards in East’s semifinal defeat of Juanita and was named tourney Most Valuable Player. Walker and McKenzie joined him on the all-tournament team.

After the game Eathorne admitted that his hands had been trembling and his nerves failing.

“I have always believed in your coaching career you might have one good shot at a state championship and if you blow that, you might not get another one,”he said. “Ken Wills one won at Bremerton. He had other chances, but he never won another one. We won two, and we should have won three.”

Arena said the lessons learned at East transcended the basketball court.

“The biggest thing he taught us how to work toward the goal and then to be committed to that goal,” said Arena, now an assistant principal at Olympic High. “In doing that he taught us how to be successful.”

Arena learned even the best players on the team weren’t above the rules when he got into a scuffle at practice with starting forward Mike Walthall.

“He sat the whole team down except us, and had us run lines up and down the court until we practically dropped,” Arena said. “I think there was a sense of fear. You didn’t want to to something that would jeopardize your chances of playing.

“He had definitely built a tradition. As young kids growing up we had definitely set our eyes on being in that program.”

The next year, with starters Arena, McKenzie, Walthall and Dan Hegland graduated, Walker had one of the most dominant seasons in Kitsap history. He entered the state tourney averaging 25 points and 15 rebounds a game.

Walker scored 29 and pulled down 21 rebounds in East’s 79-73 semifinal win over Cleveland. The final was anticlimactic this time, as the Knights rolled past Foster 77-52 at UPS. Walker, who averaged 23 points and 17 rebounds in the four-game state tourney, won the MVP award. It was presented to him by Arena, then a freshman at UPS.

“He took it humbly, he did not take the credit,” Walker said of his former coach. “Sometimes he’d take credit for coaching, especially if we lost some games. He gave the credit to the players. but we all know better than that.”

Walker remembers broken clipboards, officials hit with torrents of abuse and Eathorne’s superstitious side.

When Eathorne was a kid he walked from home to games on one side of the street. If a car was within half a block when he crossed, he believed he was in for a poor game. He still pulls his team off the floor prior to contests with exactly 3:37 left on the pregame clock.

Walker was in the same class as Eathorne’s son Mark and grew up in the same neighborhood. Basketball was the primary activity from elementary school forward.

“It centered around the gym, that was the place to be,” said Walker, who got his start in coaching assisting Eathorne at Bremerton. “We couldn’t wait to get together and we had a lot of fun. Les was the one that made it possible.”

The open door policy at school gyms, which Walker perpetuates on Sunday afternoons at King’s West, where he’s been head boys coach for five years, was initiated by Wills.

“He opened the gym at all hours of the day. It was always open, you could go up there and play any time,” Eathorne said. “He would say ‘you know I open the gym for you, and take care of you when you’re sick, so all you gotta do is ref for a couple of years or coach.”

A fervent believer in community service, Eathorne prods his players to continue the tradition. His success created the occasional uncomfortable moment at East.

“It got to the point that half of the refs were former East kids, so everybody would say ‘no wonder Eathorne wins,'” he said. “The kids spent so much time trying to be fair that I thought I got screwed.”


Unofficial year-by-year coaching record of Les Eathorne, who took over the Olympic High boys’ program last year after retiring from Bremerton High following the 1987-88 season.


1949-1950 8-12

1950-1951 2-18

1951-1952 7-12

1952-1953 10-10

1953-1954 6-14

1954-1955 8-12

1955-1956 11-12


1956-1957 12-8

1957-1958 25-3

1958-1959 10-12

1959-1960 11-10

1960-1961 5-15

1961-1962 8-14

1962-1963 15-7

1963-1964 13-7

1964-1965 12-8

1965-1966 19-3

1966-1967 13-5

1967-1968 10-8

1968-1969 14-7

1969-1970 9-11

1970-1971 12-10

1971-1972 16-8

1972-1973 26-1

1973-1974 25-1

1974-1975 18-8

1975-1976 10-12

1976-1977 17-10

1977-1978 15-6


1978-1979 17-5

1979-1980 18-10

1980-1981 11-9

1981-1982 15-9

1982-1983 13-8

1983-1984 8-12

1984-1985 9-10

1985-1986 12-8

1986-1987 8-12

1987-1988 6-13


1995-1996 9-11

1996-1997 4-8

Overall record 497-379.

Legendary Eathorne

Legendary Eathorne Touched Countless Lives

By Terry Mosher
Posted: July 06, 2010
Kitsap Sun

An important part of Bremerton’s sports history died Monday when Les Eathorne succumbed to congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at the age of 86. There may never be another like him.

Eathorne graduated from Bremerton High School in 1942, when the city was booming and the shipyard was busy with World War II.

Those years became a golden age of athletics in Bremerton. Eathorne became one of the “Golden Boys” along with athletes such as Roger Wiley, Ted Tappe, Louis Soriano, Don Heinrich and many others.

Legendary coach Ken Wills was the conductor for Bremerton basketball. His name became attached to the Bremerton gymnasium floor last December, at the same time the gym was named for Eathorne.

Eathorne played for Wills in 1941, when the Wiley-led Wildcats won the state basketball tournament. The following season, Eathorne’s senior year, the Wildcats lost the state title game by two points to Hoquiam.

Wiley wound up at the University of Oregon and Eathorne might have gone there, too, if it wasn’t for the in-home conversation Eathorne’s mother had one day with renowned University of Washington basketball coach Hec Edmundson.

Edmundson came across so well that Eathorne’s mother was determined her son would go to Washington. And whatever was good enough for his mother was good enough for him. So off he went to Washington for a college basketball career that was interrupted by the war and his military service. He was slowed upon his return by a heart condition.

Eathorne would come back to Washington after his military service and play basketball despite his heart condition.

Later he become a high school basketball coach whose career surpassed his mentor, Wills.

Eathorne’s coaching career included seven seasons at Camas (1949-’56), 22 at East Bremerton (1956-’78), 10 at Bremerton High (1978-’88) and two more at Olympic High (1995-’97). By the time he retired he had collected 502 wins and two state championships (1973 and ‘74).

He was inducted into the Washington State Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1993 and 12 years later earned a spot in the Kitsap County Sports Hall of Fame. Eathorne was most proud of being named the National High School Athletic Director of the Year in 1975.

There is little debate that Eathorne had a lasting impact on players, coaches and officials in the area.

Bruce Enns of Bremerton did most of his coaching on the college level in Canada and continues to coach on the international level.

“He really cared about kids,” said Enns, who grew closer to Eathorne in recent years. “That’s the big thing.”

Referee Charlie Buell is proud that he never called a technical foul on Eathorne, an intense coach who would often question calls.

But maybe the best memory Buell has of Eathorne is being taken care of by him. Eathorne and Buell’s mother went to school together at Bremerton.

“They were good friends and I remember when I was either in the seventh or eighth grade, she took me down to the gym and he put me in the whirlpool,” Buell said. “I had pulled a muscle and I remember thinking that thing was going to kill me.”

But Buell got better. That was Eathorne. Always sure to take care of kids.

Like Wills, Eathorne opened the gym on Sundays and kids like Buell would show up. It was a way to attract kids to his program. He even encouraged players from other schools to attend, especially from South Kitsap. It was a bigger school and Eathorne hoped playing against those kids would improve his.

That’s also why he encouraged college players to attend open gyms. He would separate games by the quality of talent. The best players would be at one end.

Eathorne also thought it was important to show the kids that he knew the game and could play it, so he joined in during the early years. It was all about gaining confidence, respect and trust in the players he coached.

Rick Walker became All-American while leading East Bremerton to consecutive state titles in 1973 and ‘74. But as a sophomore, he was uncertain as one could get about his status with coach.

“I was scared of him,” Walker said. “He made the freshmen fear and tremble before him. He was always probably a lot easier with the upperclassmen, especially the seniors. But he sure was tough on me.”

Eathorne only occasionally told Walker “good job” or gave him a wink of acknowledgment that he was doing the right thing.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to make the team, even as a junior,” Walker said. “He always wanted you to work as hard as you could to impress him. Even then I really didn’t know what he was thinking. It was his way of keeping everyone humble.”

One time Walker said he was injured and tried to play through it because he wasn’t sure where he stood. Eathorne finally came over to him and told him he didn’t have to run with the rest of the players.

“I mentioned something about wanting to make the team and he said something like, ‘You don’t have to worry about it,’” Walker said. “The one thing that impressed me was after tryouts he would get everybody together and tell everybody involved why he wasn’t going to make the team, and what it was he needed to work on. It was all good information for you to know rather than just being a name on a sheet of paper taped to a window. He didn’t ridicule anybody in the process. He would tell them what they needed to work on and for them to come back next year and prove him wrong.”

Back in the heyday of East High, when the Knights won consecutive state championships, the gym would be full before the junior varsity game finished.

The excitement and the tension that filled the gym could be felt. The lights would go out during player introductions and a searchlight would flash around the gym, the band would play, the cheerleaders would cheer, and the world of high school basketball never seemed bigger.

And a big part of that was the old East High Dad’s Club that sat in the southwest bleachers and roared approval as loud, if not louder, than the rest.

“It was a big thing,” said Dave Hayford, whose son played for Eathorne. “We had a heck of a lot of fun in the old gym. It was just a wonderful experience for my wife and me and for a ton of other friends.”

The club would get together for postgame parties at members’ homes. Eathorne, of course, would be the main course.

“Les was just one heck of a good guy to be around,” Hayford said. “He stuck up for his kids. By God, he fought for them. He loved his kids and backed them to the hilt.”

Jim Rye played for him — sparingly because of a knee injury his senior year — and later officiated basketball games. Rye had a reputation for being quick about teeing up coaches who got a little out of line, and Eathorne was not an exception.

“He was a great guy,” Rye said. “If he did get a technical there was a reason for it. Lots of times he knew he could spur his team on. So he would get one (a technical) and then leave you alone. He ‘played’ the officials. He was good at it.”

Rye is among the many former players who gush when they explain how much Eathorne meant to them as they have moved on with their lives.

“That’s because he really cared about you,” Rye said. “Most coaches just care about winning and losing, but he would make sure you were doing your studies, and he cared about his players building good character. He tried to bring the best out of everybody. Yes, he was a great coach, but you got so much more respect for him because he would take the time to ask how you were doing. And he sincerely cared.

“I think he cared about you more as a person (than a basketball player). He wanted all his players to succeed in whatever direction they were going.”

Before full-court pressure became common in basketball, Eathorne developed that style back in the 1950s when one of his former players, Lyle Bakken, became a one-man defensive wrecking ball. It worked so well, Eathorne started the zone full-court pressure for which his teams became famous.

“I remember running the lines in practice,” Rye said. “We would be just about dead and he would want us doing it a couple more times. He wouldn’t do it out of meanness. He did it because he knew you could do it, and that is how East High ran teams on the floor. It was his style and he wanted us to believe in his style. You don’t stop. You just kept going.

“He was kind of the John Wooden of high school basketball.”

Former North Kitsap coach Jim Harney worked hard to match what Eathorne had built at East. The result was a fierce rivalry that played out in the local paper and caused some friction between the two. But in retirement, the two became fast friends. The would often meet in Silverdale for breakfast.

“He was unbelievably entertaining,” Harney said. “It’s his wit. He was very quick and very spontaneous. Really, I would just crack up.”

Kids growing up in East Bremerton couldn’t wait to play for Eathorne. Wayne Gibson graduated in 1964 from East, but he said he dreamed years before that about playing for Eathorne.

“He had such a good program back then that playing on the varsity was a big deal,” Gibson said. “He gave me a lot of confidence that I could do anything I wanted to do. He gave me a lot of self-confidence, and what better compliment can you give a coach then that?”

Bruce Welling, who just finished up his 39th year of teaching at Central Kitsap, played for Eathorne in the 1960s and if Eathorne asked him today to do something, he would snap to it.

“If he would have asked me to run through the wall into the auxiliary gym, I would have done it,” Welling said. “You had that much respect and trust in the man that you would follow through. He treated you as a human being. He respected us and our abilities and when somebody respects you, you respect him back, you believe in him.

“… I was a basketball player for him, but I was human being for him, too. I was an individual. I was somebody important. That’s the way he made everybody feel.”

Coaches like Eathorne are rare. They don’t come along often. His name, his memory will last long after he is gone. But that’s not all he was.

“He was a great coach,” Louie Soriano said. “But the thing you are forgetting is he was a great basketball player. He really was. Many of the kids growing up then were always trying to emulate the things he did. He could pass, could dribble, was a smart player and could shoot really well. He was at the time the greatest basketball player locally we had an opportunity to see.

“That was a great era back then and the young kids looked up to heroes like him.”

Eathorne’s sister, Virginia Costello, said from her home in Bremerton, “I am heartbroken. But he lived a good life. He worked hard for kids and people and I’m very proud of him.

“I’m very proud to be his sister.”


Eathorne joining Wills in Hall of Fame

Terry Mosher — Apr 14th, 1993

By Terry Mosher

Sun Staff

Les Eathorne and Ken Wills are together again. Or will be shortly.

In June, the retired Bremerton High basketball coach will be inducted into the Washington State Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. The late Wills, Eathorne’s mentor at Bremerton in the early 1940s, was one of the early inductees into the hall.

“One of the reasons why I’m so honored is that Ken Wills is in there,” Eathorne said. “If he’s in ther`, I want to be in there.”

“Wills,” Eathorne said, “is the reason I started coaching. He set a pretty good example. I thought he was fair. He was stern, but he made you behave. And he knew the game and let you play.

“He was like a father to me. My father was injured in the Navy yard and suffered brain damage, so Wills kind of took over as a father figure in certain areas.”

Wills-coached and Eathorne-led Bremerton won the state high school basketball championship in 1941. The next season, Eathorne’s senior year, Bremerton took second.

Eathorne would later be a parttime starter at the University of Washington and in 1949 (he served several years in the service during World War II) started a high school coaching career at Camas that would stretch over 39 basketball seasons.

The last 32 years of his career were spent coaching Bremerton schools. His won-lost record stood at 486-360 when he retired from Bremerton in 1988.

Eathorne won state titles at East Bremerton in 1973 and ’74, finished second with the 1972 East squad and coached the 1958 East team to fifth place.

“The 1957 team might have been the best and most talented team I had,” Eathorne said. The team included Lyle Bakken, who later starred at Washington; Dan Stautz, who played for Seattle University; Ron Olson, Idaho State; and George Foutch, who played football on scholarship at the University of Oregon.

Eathorne, 69, will be inducted into the hall of fame during ceremonies at Seattle Pacific on June 23. Wayne Hohman, who won two state championships at St. John’s, and Ray Normile, who coached in Seattle, will also be inducted.

“This is one of the better honors,” Eathorne said, “because of the fact that you are elected by your peers and you’re going in with a group of people who you admire.

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Jul 8th, 2005

Local cowboy legend Clint Corey, a native of Silverdale, will be in the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame’s first class. Larry Steagall | kitsap sun File Former Bremerton basketball coach Les Eathorne and his 1973-74 state championship team at East High will be inducted … [Read More…]

Happy birthday, coach

Jan 19th, 2004

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Aug 11th, 1995

* Former Bremerton coach Les Eathorne, 71, is back in the Olympic League as head basketball coach at Olympic High. By Terry Mosher Sun Staff If you were lost Thursday evening and wandered by mistake into the Olympic High gym, you would have been shocked … [Read More…]


Jun 19th, 2002

A story of a life’s work rewarded He’s up on his feet now and off the couch where he has been sitting. He’s ranging slowly to his right, behind the coffee table then down to one knee. He extends his left hand, his … [Read More…]