Ed Pepple will forever be etched in record books as the state of Washington’s winningest high school basketball coach and as man who brought four state championships to Mercer Island over his 42 years on the bench.
His legacy also lives on through the many he impacted and influenced over his long, storied coaching career.
Pepple died Monday morning after a fight with cancer at age 88, surrounded by family at his home in Mercer Island, his grandson Matt Logie confirmed to SBLive Washington.
“It was very peaceful,” Logie said.
The Seattle Times was first to report the news and after it did, Logie’s phone lit up with an overwhelming amount of calls and texts from friends with whom he shared appreciation for the coach, mentor, father, grandfather and great grandfather.
After a playing career at the University of Utah where he went head-to-head with future-NBA legends Bill Russell and KC Jones in the NCAA Tournament, Pepple got his start coaching at Fife High School from 1958 to 1963. From there, he made stops at Meadowdale (1964-66) and Mark Morris (1967-68) before he was hired at Mercer Island in 1967.
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There, he didn’t just find a career destination. He found a lifelong home.
His Islanders logged three runner-up finishes before his first state title in 1985. One of those, the 1981 state title against Shadle Park, is considered “The Game that Never Ended,” for its controversial finish that left Mercer Island with the second place trophy.
Washington High school basketball has been synonymous with Pepple for more than 50 years. He once recalled cutting class when he was in junior high in the 1940s to watch the state tournament, only to be caught by his mother and dragged back to school. His first date with his wife Shirley was at a basketball game.
He would go on to win his four state titles in eight total appearances, and coached the likes of current Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, who played at Duke, as well as some of the most well-regarded teams in state history.
One of his former players was Logie, who was first a ball boy for his grandfather growing up in Mercer Island and ended up pursuing a career in coaching after seeing the way Pepple’s former players returned to continue to be a part of the program — the “Mercer Island family,” as Logie calls it.
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Logie can trace Pepple’s DNA through each of his coaching stops, from Lehigh where he was a player-turned eight-year assistant coach, to building Whitworth into a Division III national power to taking over a national Division II power in Point Loma Nazarene, where he’s been for two years.
“He was always right there with me,” Logie said.
Both in spirit and in philosophy.
Early in Logie’s coaching career, the values he instilled in his role derived from studying something Pepple held in high regard: what it meant to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
How do you pass down leadership qualities to the younger players in the program? What kind of team environment and relationships with players did it take to create not just a winning atmosphere — but a “family” atmosphere.
“I’ve tried to capture the essence of what made Mercer Island basketball special and unique,” Logie said on the SBLive Washington podcast in May. “It wasn’t the winning — that’s a byproduct. But the thing I tried to model most of anything else is just the ‘how.’ What did it look like on a daily basis?”
Logie reckoned Pepple attended anywhere from 20 to 25 games a season during his coaching career. His attendance at Point Loma games was limited last season due to Pepple’s slowing health. Logie shared on Aug. 31 news that Pepple had been experience “significant health challenges” in recent months.
Pepple retired from Mercer Island in 2009 at age 76 with a career record of 952 wins and 306 losses, according to Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association records, which is currently 224 wins more than the second winningest coach.
“It’s been a great run,” Pepple told The Seattle Times in 2009. “Obviously you’d be crazy to stay at a job for 42 years and not enjoy it. I’ve been blessed to do something that I love. I have a lot of great memories and it’s been a magnificent and rewarding experience for me.”
Logie flew up to Mercer Island from San Diego last week with his wife and kids to spend quality time with Pepple, sharing memories and interacting in person — “from the standpoint of closure, healing, coping, I’m very grateful for those opportunities,” Logie said.
After retiring, Pepple remained in Mercer Island with his wife, Shirley, where he’s lived since 1967. They moved out of their long-term home last year.
“They were Islanders through and through,” Logie said. “He really took great pride being a part of the community and the relationships he built over all those years meant a great deal to him. I think the influx of letters, messages and calls I’ve had, even in the last few weeks when word got out that his health was failing, has been a show of evidence in that.”
(Lead photo courtesy of Washington Sports Hall of Fame)