The high school coaching fraternity is a small one.
Monday night’s Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame induction banquet at the Red Lion Inn at the Park proved the point.
The connections of the four honored coaches — the late Jack Cleveland, Denny Humphrey, Terry Irwin and Marty O’Brien — run deep, with Eastern Washington at their nexus.
O’Brien, Humphrey and Irwin grew up here. O’Brien, Humphrey and Cleveland earned degrees from Eastern Washington, a state college when O’Brien and Humphrey were classmates. All four spent their entire head coaching careers on the east side of the Cascades.
And all exhibited values common to the Inland Northwest.
“I guarantee you, there’s not a coach in the world who has done anything by themselves,” said O’Brien, who graduated from North Central High and spent his entire coaching career at Ephrata High. “Everything we do in the whole world, it is always other people who help us.”
It was a theme all four coaches touched upon. The combined 75 years as high school head coaches, the more than 1,600 combined wins, the three state tournament titles, all were more than just the quartet’s accomplishments alone. They were the result of team efforts.
And not just basketball teams.
Cleveland died a year ago at age 56 and his induction ceremony, the night’s first, was the most emotional.
Speaker after speaker had trouble keeping their composure, especially Cleveland’s son Brad, who had to get an assist from brother Jeff before he could speak.
At the time of his death, Cleveland was the head girls coach at East Valley (Yakima) as was coming off two consecutive 2A championships. In the six years he coached the EV girls, Cleveland was 141-19. While coaching boys at six schools, including Endicott, Davenport, Medical Lake and University, Cleveland was 302-158. His Titan teams were 55-41, including a fourth-place finish at state in 1984 and a third-place the next year.
But those records were secondary Monday.
“A lot of things have been said about Jack’s coaching abilities,” O’Brien said when it was his turn to talk, “but the first thing I noticed was how solid, how tight and how emotional his family is. The ultimate truth and the final assessment, the most important thing in our life is our family.”
The four coaches were praised as fathers, brothers, friends and teachers, not only of the sport but other values as well.
“Whenever I watched Denny’s teams play, the character they exhibited on and off the court was evident,” former St. John-Endicott coach Darrell Miller said about Humphrey. “Denny was a leader who gave his teams discipline and direction.”
Humphrey, who graduated from Reardan High, retired as the fifth-winningest boys basketball coach in Washington state history, with a 552-276 record. He began his coaching career at LaCrosse, which he took to the State B tournament three times in four years. A year at Chewelah preceded a tenure at Ritzville, which he also took to the State B three times, finishing second in 1976.
The last 22 years of Humphrey’s career were spent at Cheney, where his Blackhawks earned nine state berths, including a second-place finish in 1997.
Irwin spent 19 years as a head coach in the Greater Spokane League, amassing a 279-167 record. He was named the league’s coach of the year twice.
During his six years at Gonzaga Prep, he was blessed with a point guard of some note, John Stockton, who happened to nominate Irwin for the state honor.
“Everyone gets into this business wanting to win a state title,” Irwin said, launching into one of the night’s many jokes. “A lot of guys have won state titles, but I’m the only one who coached one of the top 50 players of all time. That’s better than winning any state title … well, no it isn’t.”
At Central Valley, his alma mater, Irwin’s Bears finished in the GSL’s top three 10 times and won the 1993-94 title. CV made two state appearances, including a fourth-place finish in 1988.
This isn’t the first state hall of fame into which O’Brien has been inducted. In 1994, he was honored by the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association for his 24 years as an assistant at Ephrata. At the time, he was only the second assistant coach to earn the hall of fame honor.
O’Brien was 340-178 in 20 years as the Tigers head boys basketball coach, winning the school’s only state title in 1993. That team finished 26-1, including a 67-58 win over Port Townsend in the 1A title game. He took Ephrata to the state tournament eight times, including four consecutive years in the mid-1980s.