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Saturday, December 14, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Grip on Sports: It’s time to say goodbye to Denny Humphrey, another friend who shared a love of basketball

Cheney coach Denny Humphrey. (Dan McComb / SR)
Cheney coach Denny Humphrey. (Dan McComb / SR)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • Not every morning is a happy one. Sad news delivered late in the evening can impact the next day, that’s for sure. Such is the case today.

•••••••

• Some deaths are sudden, hitting like a bolt from the sky. Others, like Denny Humphrey’s yesterday, are not.

If you knew Denny, you probably knew him as a high school basketball coach, most notably from his long tenure at Cheney High in the 1980s and 1990s.

I knew him that way as well. But I also knew Denny as more than that. I knew him as a friend for more than two decades.

During many of those Cheney years my family attended games, even though we lived in Spokane. Denny’s assistant (and junior varsity coach) Steve Larson, was my best friend, so we would load the family truckster up and haul ourselves to Cheney games each basketball season. And, after home games, we would often get together with the coaching staff at one of their homes.

Yes, we were young once. And enjoyed each other’s company.

Denny was the quintessential high school basketball coach. He won, sure, as much as anyone in the state. (Dave Nichols mentions Denny’s record – 552-277 – in his obituary. At the time Denny retired, it was the third-most wins in Washington history.) But he was more than that.

He was a dad who raised four children, including three sons, two of whom played for their dad (and that’s never easy), and one, Jay, who also went into the coaching profession. Denny was a teacher. And he was an adult who understood what high school sports meant.

Sure, game night in the gym is important. Competition has a way of helping young men and women develop into productive adults. But winning and losing isn’t the be-all and end-all, not in high school. The lessons Denny’s players learned in practice were just as important, maybe more so. It was his most-important classroom. From Denny, they learned about the effort needed to be successful. They learned how to deal with adversity, how to grow from failure as well as success.

And they built memories they would share the rest of their lives.

Denny was from small town, rural Eastern Washington, a world away from my experience. But we had a shared one: basketball. High school basketball, actually, and all that it means.

I have a picture clipped from the Cheney Free Press in front of me. It is a picture of the 1986 Blackhawk team. (Don’t ask why, just realize I have saved a lot of stuff over the years and accept it.)

On the left is a young Denny Humphrey. Next to him is his point guard, Marty Jessett, who had a successful high school basketball coaching career of his own. And spread out in a half-circle, as is the case in so many high school basketball team pictures over the years, there are 11 other young men.

I’m sure all of them, if asked, could give you a lesson they learned from Denny that is still with them today, when they are not so young. It’s what high school coaches do. It’s what Denny did.

After his son Rhett played his final game at Cheney early this century, Denny moved on. He coached some at the college level. He helped Jay at West Valley some. And he grew older, as we all do.

When the news began to circulate recently Denny was getting closer to the end, some of us shared memories. Things that made us laugh. Things we didn’t quite understand. That’s appropriate. After all, years later, it’s what binds us together.

That and the wish to say goodbye.

•••

WSU: A bye week also means something else to a college football coach staff. It’s a recruiting week. The Cougars offered a high school quarterback a scholarship this week and he accepted yesterday. Theo Lawson has more on the commitment from Hawaii, from the same high school, in fact, as many other well-known quarterbacks. … Theo also spoke with Larry Weir yesterday for the latest Press Box pod. … Gardner Minshew was the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Month. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, 10 years into Larry Scott’s reign as commissioner, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. … Speaking of questions, will college sports really be in trouble if California’s new law is applied everywhere? … As Washington’s offensive line finds its swagger, the running game takes off. … Oregon has struggled at the receiver spots, but help is on the way. … Oregon State wonders what it will see from UCLA this weekend. There will be a lot of running backs, that’s for sure. The Bruins are trying to rebuild, but it’s a slow process. … Colorado has a new voice in charge of its offense. … Stanford will not have K.J. Costello for its road game in Seattle. … The ability of Jayden Daniels to run has helped Arizona State and its offense. … USC quarterback J.T. Daniels underwent knee surgery this week. … The Trojans are looking for an athletic director. … Arizona has done well in the fourth quarter this season.

Gonzaga: The WCC announced the results of its women’s basketball preseason coaches poll. The Zag women were picked to repeat as conference champions. Jim Allen has that and more in this story. … Around the WCC, the BYU women were picked to finish second. … It’s been an interesting start to Mark Pope’s tenure as men's head coach.

EWU: With the Los Angeles Rams in Seattle to play the Seahawks tonight, that means Cooper Kupp is back in his home state. Ryan Collingwood marks the occasion with this story. … Yes, it is possible to make millions posting videos. Jim Allen tells us the story of one such multi-millionaire, former Eastern basketball player Austin McBroom.

Idaho: It was tough offseason for the Vandal basketball team. But that’s over now. Practice has started. Peter Harriman takes a look at the first week.

Preps: Besides Humphrey’s obituary, we also have a handful of prep stories today, including a feature on Liberty High star Maisie Burnham, written by Luke Byrnes. … Steve Christilaw has a piece on the early season success of the Ferris soccer team. … Newport High has seen a turnaround lately on the athletic fields. Fred Willenbrock examines the reasons behind it in this story. … We have a roundup of soccer action from Wednesday as well.

Seahawks: Tonight’s matchup in Seattle will feature the two most dominant teams in the division the past couple years. But it’s not a rivalry yet. Or is it? … Thursday night games can get ugly. … The Hawks have been keeping things simple defensively. … Duane Brown isn’t going to let a little arm injury keep him out. … Percy Harvin had some things to say yesterday about the Super Bowl, Golden Tate and staying high.

•••       

• Yes, the Los Angeles Rams are in Seattle tonight. That means we had to come up with a meal based on something we would only eat in L.A. What better than a burger from one of the city’s quintessential hamburger stands? No, not In-N-Out, my favorite stop. Those have spread out all over the Southwest and up the West Coast. Nope. Tonight I’m imitating the chili-cheeseburgers from Tommy’s, an L.A. landmark right up there with the Hollywood sign and traffic jams. (OK, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but a few of us saw it that way.) Some day maybe I’ll share a story from college. It concerns a Led Zeppelin concert at the Forum and includes lots of second-hand smoke, a drummer who seemed as intense as Animal and two double chili-cheeseburgers. Until later …

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