Hard work, enthusiasm, toughness and determination.
Those were four of many core values that legendary Mercer Island High School boys basketball head coach Ed Pepple bounced into his players’ game plan during his multitude of seasons on the Islanders’ court, according to current head coach Gavin Cree.
Pepple, 88, passed away on Sept. 14, according to Cree, a former MIHS player under Pepple. Pepple’s grandson Matt Logie, also a former MIHS player, texted his close friend Cree that morning.
Pepple, who passed away from cancer, is survived by his wife of 65 years, Shirley, their four children, Terry, Jill (Logie), Jody (Page) and Kyle, and six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“He lived a very impactful life,” said Matt, adding that Pepple was all about family and building authentic, long-lasting relationships on and off the court.
Added Terry: “He treated people with respect. He was very positive. He did just not entertain a negative thought.”
Family was No. 1 for Pepple, who was the patriarch of “two big and loving families,” the Pepples and the Mercer Island basketball community, Terry noted.
Pepple retired from MIHS in March 2009 after 42 seasons at the helm and four state championships. He is Washington state’s winningest basketball coach with 952 victories.
Cree, who graduated from MIHS in 2000, will enter his 12th year as the Islanders’ head coach this season. Cree imparts the same values on his players that Pepple did on his squads. It wasn’t just basketball knowledge that they absorbed from Pepple, but forming great relationships, too, Cree said.
“He was equally special on and off the court. He cherished the relationships that he had with his players and his staff,” said Cree, noting that Pepple created a basketball culture on Mercer Island. “I think it’s a unique basketball program in the country where people feel so connected to one another because of the coach that they played for. He was just able to bring a community together and rally around the sport of basketball.”
Pepple told the Reporter at the time of his retirement: “It’s been long enough. It’s time to let someone else run the show. And I am not Brett Favre.”
He began his coaching career at Fife High School in 1958 and came to Mercer Island in 1967.
Pepple coached for 49 years overall, coached an All-American game, was league and state coach of the year numerous times, averaged two players advancing into the college ranks for every season and is a member of three separate Halls of Fame.
On Sept. 14, the Seattle Mariners honored Pepple, who threw out the first pitch at a game after he retired. The M’s tweeted alongside a scoreboard photo: “Today, we join the Seattle-sports community in mourning the passing of former Mercer Island boys basketball coach, Ed Pepple. He led the basketball team to four championships during his 42 years of coaching. Rest in peace, Ed.”
“That was overwhelming,” Terry said. “He loved the Mariners, he loved the Seahawks, he loved the Sonics. He threw out the first pitch of the Mariners game a few years ago, which was a great honor for him. He was just thrilled. I’ve never seen him so happy.”
Longtime friend Greg Asimakoupoulos, chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores, said that Pepple “took great pride in having coached and mentored guys in high school that went on to achieve in the world of sports. Guys like Steve Hawes and Quin Snyder. Ed was especially proud of how his grandson Matt Logie excelled.”
Pepple ate breakfast at Chace’s Pancake Corral on Bellevue Way so often that they named the “Coach’s Pick” (crepe style pancakes filled with apple glaze) on the menu for him, said Asimakoupoulos, adding that a photo of Pepple hangs over one of the tables.
As one of the last speakers at the Covenant Living at the Shores monthly men’s breakfasts before COVID-19 hit, Pepple “shared about how his less-than-desirable childhood paved the way for a successful career,” Asimakoupoulos said.
On a recent episode of the Scorebook Live Today podcast, Matt (a 1999 MIHS graduate) said that his grandfather was a competitive and disciplined coach of high-level basketball and held lofty expectations for his players.
“He just always believed in me and he helped me develop the habits that would allow me to be successful,” Matt told the Reporter. “(He) pushed me to high standards and gave me a window into his life as a coach and his values, and those have been guiding lights for me as I got into coaching myself.”
Matt got his first glimpse into MIHS hoops as a ball boy, then achieved his dream of playing varsity ball for Pepple and winning a state title in 1999. Matt played for and was an assistant coach at Lehigh University, was head coach for eight years at Whitworth University and now is the head coach at Point Loma Nazarene University.
Terry, who played for Pepple from 1972-74, said his dad brought out the best in his players during an amazing, life-changing experience. He wouldn’t trade those times for anything.
“It was unusual, obviously, being a coach’s son. That’s not an everyday thing that people see. He was certainly hard on me as he was on all of his players, but at home he was dad. On the court, he was coach. We had a complete separation of the two. Our teams were successful and I loved playing for him. I learned a lot. He was the best coach I ever played for,” Terry said.
Travel was an immense thing for Pepple, who journeyed with his MIHS team to Juneau, Alaska, in 1973 for a tournament and continued those trips in subsequent years. After Pepple launched Little Dribblers on the Island in the early 1970s, they traveled to tournaments in Texas each year.
Terry said that Pepple aimed to get his players out of their comfort zone on those trips, stretching themselves by meeting new people and experiencing new ideas along the way.
Pepple played for another legendary coach, Bill Nollan, at Lincoln High in Seattle before playing at Everett Community College for one year and then hitting the court for the University of Utah. At Lincoln, he competed in the state title game in 1950, and at Utah, his team played in the NCAA tournament against Bill Russell’s University of San Francisco squad in 1955. He joined the Marines after college and married Shirley in Everett in 1955.
Pepple’s ashes will be laid to rest at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent. Terry said they are proud of his service to the United States in the Marines.
Ryan Rosoff, a former player for Pepple, wrote on Facebook: “RIP to a mentor, boss, and legend. No way one post could summarize all that he meant to my growth and development as a basketball player and as a human.”
* Memorials may be made to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.