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Les Eathorne, East alum show the 'Knight' way
For one charming night, it felt as though nothing had ever changed.
On one side, the West High Wildcats donned blue and gold, howling the melody of their fight song, “Anchors Aweigh.” On the other, the black-and-white Knights of East High hooted and shook as coach Les Eathorne, 85, threw his clipboard and pumped that signature fist.
The band played, a drill team marched and two cheerleading squads flung pompons toward the rafters, igniting fans and players who shared a common space for the first time in about 30 years.
A charged-up, capacity crowd of more than 2,200 witnessed the reunion of rivals as East and West alumni suited up Monday for the Bremerton Student & Alumni Association basketball game at the newly named Les Eathorne Gymnasium and Ken Wills Court at Bremerton High School.
East won 69-45.
“It couldn’t have been scripted any better,” said Rick Walker, a 1974 East alum who scored 20 points and was named MVP. “The guys wanted to win for Les. His honor tonight was the pinnacle of the whole thing. It’s beyond words, it’s just phenomenal.”
It was an evening where the scoreboard took a backseat to the pre- and post-game festivities as well as the halftime show, when the legacies of two adored Bremerton coaches — Eathorne and fellow legend Wills, who died in 1962 — were cemented during a naming ceremony.
Flanked by nearly 30 former players, Eathorne accepted an honorary plaque that will go up at one of the gym entrances alongside another, honoring Wills.
With the gym lights dimmed, the eighth-winningest coach in Washington state basketball history stood at mid-court, speaking slowly and softly to the crowd.
“This fills me with emotion,” Eathorne said. “I hope this starts the beginning of a new era in Bremerton.”
Monday’s game was spearheaded by student and alumni association Executive Director Jim Portune to raise money for Bremerton sports, but more than anything, it was a celebration of the city’s rich sports history.
For more than two decades, Bremerton was a town divided in two. There was East, and there was West. The rivalry extended beyond the basketball court, from the gridiron to the classroom to the marching bands and beyond.
But together, the two schools put Bremerton sports on the map before merging in 1978.
“Tradition is the root of any successful organization,” West High grad Lane Dowell said. “Bremerton has such a proud, proud tradition.”
Eathorne coached 41 seasons in Bremerton and was the only coach in the history of East High, where he coached for 32 years. Named the National High School Athletic Director of the Year in 1976, he won 502 games. Only Mercer Island’s Ed Pepple (47 seasons) and Centralia’s Ed Brown (46) coached longer than Eathorne.
He took eight teams to the state tournament during his tenure at East, winning consecutive championships in 1973 and 1974.
In 1993 he was inducted into the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Associated Hall of Hame as well as the Bremerton Athletic Roundtable Hall of Fame in 2005.
Wills coached at West High from 1936-62, winning 72 percent of his games and climbing to 14th on the state’s all-time victory list. The Wildcats advanced to the state tournament 15 times under his watch, winning the championship in 1941.
Also inducted into the Washington State Basketball Hall of Fame, Wills coached five players who earned all-state status. He is recognized for introducing summer basketball programs to the Olympic Peninsula.
Louis Soriano, one of Wills’ former players, accepted a plaque on his coach’s behalf.
“There was never a person he couldn’t spend time with, relate to and help,” he said. “It wasn’t all just basketball, it was human life.”
Those who played in the game were alum dating back to 1964, though non-playing East roster player Lowell Mahugh graduated in 1958. The most recent grads were West High’s Brett Fein and Jeff Mantzke, both of whom graduated in 1981.
For the players, the game provided an opportunity to reunite with former teammates and friends while also rekindling a rivalry that dominated their high-school playing days.
“There really are no words to describe this,” Walker said. “It’s just great to be out here and see the guys and be a part of this.”
East Alumni 69, West Alumni 45
East 10 26 16 21 — 69
West 13 13 10 9 — 45
East Alumni—Rick Walker 20, Leonard Barnes 15, Mark Eathorne 4, Rich Arena 6, Mark Bergsma 6, Campbell 5, Ian Gilyeat 2, Kevin Backlund, Rick Torseth 2, Tom Deichert 4, Jon Hussey 2, Don Davis 3, Dave Hegland, Dave Bean, Steve Boyce, Bryan Garinger, Greg Farrar, Bruce Welling, Terry Welling, Henri Campbell.
West Alumni—Jeff Mantzke 9, Bill Baxter 2, John Sitton, Cal Ormiston 3, Dave Pemberton 3, Bob Winters, Jim Derrig 2, Rick Ormiston, Mike Braun, Mike Mantzke 6, Mike Anderson 2, Tom Hamre 4, Ron Smith 8, David Joiner 4, Dick Wolf 2, Bill Nylund, Larry Thatcher, Russ Kissinger, Jeff Mitchell, Don Lay, Rick Herdman, Ron Burley.