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Yes or no? 'Les Eathorne Gymnasium and Ken Wills Court'

Wally Erwin was on jail's doorstep and needed a home. Roger Wiley required support his parents couldn't provide. Eddie "Bud" Bilden yearned for a father, to be called "Junior."

Enter Ken Wills, the legendary West High basketball coach who is remembered by most for putting his players first and the game second, but who also shocked Bremerton when he shot himself in 1962 at the age of 51.

"I can tell you stories that are unbelievable — what Ken did," said Bremerton resident Louis Soriano, who played under Wills during the 1940s. "It's not so much what he did for us, but what he did for everybody."

The Bremerton School District Board of Directors will vote on a proposal Thursday to have the Bremerton High School gym renamed after Wills and fellow legend Les Eathorne, 86, the winningest basketball coach in Bremerton history.

Both Eathorne and Wills possess impressive coaching resumés, sitting eighth and 14th, respectively, on the state's all-time wins list. They are recognized for putting Bremerton basketball on the map, Eathorne winning two state championships at East during the 1970s and Wills taking 15 teams to the state tournament and compiling a 472-164 record.

"What you're really talking about here is the history of a lot of people when you name Ken and Les," Soriano said. "We couldn't honor two greater people in our community than those two."

A citizens group comprised of East and West High alumni spearheaded the naming effort, which began about three years ago when a policy was in place that prohibited the district from naming school facilities after people. The policy was changed in August.

Speaking on behalf of the citizens group in November, when the proposal was pitched to the Bremerton School District's Facilities Naming Committee, Lane Dowell recommended the gym be named "Les Eathorne Gymnasium and Ken Wills Court."

The group wants Wills' name to be painted on the court, probably along the baseline, and for two plaques — one for each coach — to go up at the entrance.

Funding for those items and additional costs, the group says, will come from donations and fundraising efforts, alleviating the district from what would be a financial burden when money is already tight.

The gym has been nameless since its construction in 1988.

Wills' suicide could be a point of contention when the Board votes, but members Louis Mitchell and Vicki Collins said Friday they have received zero complaints regarding the proposal and are unaware of any organized opposition.

"I can't speak for the whole board, but I haven't heard any opposition, quite frankly," Mitchell said.

"There's buzz, but you can't point to any person or group," Collins added.

Proponents of the Wills-Eathorne name insist Wills' accomplishments outweigh his untimely and surprising demise, Eathorne's body of work speaks for itself and current students should be aware of — and exposed to — their school's history.

"It's just the write thing to do," said one supporter, speaking on behalf of the Chuck Semancik Foundation.

The public is encouraged to attend Thursday's meeting, which is at 5 p.m. at the district administrative building, 134 Marion Avenue N.

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