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Bremerton's Eathorne, Dicks honored by Semancik Foundation for public service
As the lights flicker on in the gym, a mahogany ball hits the hardwood, thumping like a heart and a hero’s silhouette crawls into the rafters.
Les Eathorne stands alone at midcourt in the East High School gymnasium, basketball in hand. It’s 1956 and he is the school’s new — first — boys basketball coach.
It’s the beginning of a decorated career at East High in Bremerton, a school Eathorne single-handedly put on the basketball map during its short existence.
The man known for his enthusiasm and unbridled passion for his players and the game led East High to back-to-back state championships in 1973 and 1974. He compiled 502 career wins in 41 seasons as a basketball coach — with stints at Camas, Olympic and Bremerton High School — and is an inductee in both the Kitsap County Sports Hall of Fame and the Washington State Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
To fellow coaches, players, school administrators, friends, family and all those who know him, Eathorne is a hero.
Which is why Eathorne, now 84, along with Congressman Norm Dicks (D-Belfair), received a Bremerton Heroes Award Oct. 24.
A tradition that began in 2006, each year the Semancik Foundation gives the award to two individuals who made outstanding contributions in some area of public service to their community. The award is presented during halftime of a Bremerton home football game.
“We wanted to honor citizens who fit our definition of a ‘Bremerton Hero,’” said Lane Dowell, founder and president of the Semancik Foundation. “Our board of directors felt it important to make these role models visible to the community, particularly to our young.”
Al Colvin and Ike Parker received the first Bremerton Heroes awards in 2006, followed by Louie Soriano and Chuck Haselwood (posthumously) in 2007.
“It is important that (students) are aware of those who paved the way for them, so that they might walk in the shoes of these great humanitarians and hopefully aspire to be like some of them,” Dowell said. “This year’s recipients are two men who have labored long and hard to achieve excellence in their chosen fields in an attempt to make things better for a significant portion of our city.”
Those men are Eathorne and Dicks, both of whom attended Bremerton’s Oct. 24 home football game against Port Angeles to accept the award.
“It’s a great honor to be here tonight, especially with coach Les Eathorne, who is a tremendous individual,” Dicks said. “It is very hard for me to admit, but it was 50 years ago that I played football here at West High School for the great coach, Chuck Semancik.”
For Eathorne, seeing his former players, many of whom attended the ceremony, was more rewarding than being a hero.
“It’s quite an honor, but I’m no hero,” he said Wednesday from his East Bremerton home. “I’m just a basketball coach.”
Eathorne said he took an “enthusiastic” approach toward coaching while establishing trust with his players. That mentality, he said, translated to success on the court.
“The most important thing in coaching ... is to let the players know you care about them,” he said. “If they are sick, you give them a ride to the doctor. If they need help with homework, you help them study. You let them know you care.”
A 1941 graduate of Bremerton High School, Eathorne still calls Bremerton home. And his stepson, Casey Lindberg, currently coaches BHS’ basketball team.
“I like to sit (on the visitors side) in the bleachers and watch him coach,” Eathorne said of Lindberg. “You can tell a lot about what’s going on by watching a coach on the sideline.”
But Eathorne said he prefers to let Lindberg coach his own team, with his own style, in his own way.
“Casey is his own man,” Eathorne said.
Both Dicks and Eathorne received a commemorative tile, saying, “In appreciation of your dedication and service which has made our community a better place to live and our schools a better place to learn.”
The commemorative plaques go into Victory Park, located in the southeast corner of Memorial Stadium.
The Semancik Foundation board nominates citizens for the award at its annual meeting where members vote on current and past nominees. The votes are tallied, a discussion follows and the process continues until two unanimous choices are agreed upon.
Asked why Eathorne was selected, Dowell replied, “Sports are a very intense and popular classroom. The future of any community rests in the hands of the young. Coach Eathorne was a master at teaching his student-athletes life lessons via basketball. Truly a maker of men. Bremerton is much stronger today because of Les Eathorne.”
Eathorne’s son, Mark Eathorne, presented the awards and was joined by a handful of Bremerton high school sports icons including Dowell, Mark Bergsma, Alex Bennett, Brian Garinger, Dave Heglund and Henri Campbell, among others.
“It is a real pleasure for us to be able to do this for the school district and our community,” Dowell said. “As a former history teacher, I think it is very important that our young (people) know about role models like our ‘heroes’ and what they have given to make some segment of life in Bremerton better. The Bremerton Heroes our board has chosen are all worthy of the emulation of our youth.”