By JOHN McCALLUM
Managing Editor 

Passing of a legend

Hall of Famer Denny Humphrey guided Cheney boys basketball for 22 years, numerous state tournament appearances

 

Last updated 10/10/2019 at 9:50am

CHENEY – An Eastern Washington coaching legend passed away last week.

According to the family, Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Hall of Fame basketball coach Denny Humphrey passed away early Wednesday morning, Oct. 2. Humphrey coached in several high schools in Eastern Washington, most notably Ritzville and Cheney.

Born April 4, 1940, Humphrey graduated from Reardan High School in 1958, being part of the Indians basketball lore as a member of the boys’ basketball team that reached the state tournament in his senior season. Humphrey helped the team to the tournament — where they lost to Kalama and Onalaska — by being the state’s third leading scorer, averaging 21.5 points per game.

In a May 2003 feature story in the Cheney Free Press, Humphrey said he worked at the Reardan Grain Growers after graduating. In spring 1962, he followed his passion and managed to “worm” a tryout with the Spokane Indians — at the time a Los Angeles Dodgers Class AAA farm team.


Managed by future Philadelphia Phillies legend Danny Ozark, Humphrey won a roster spot after a tryout. But after riding the bench for several weeks and was subsequently offered a position with the Dodgers’ Salem, Ore. Class A affiliate, Humphrey said he passed up his dream to provide for his wife and newborn son Jay by declining the shot and returning to the Reardan Grain Growers.

“I got tired of those itchy old oats and said to myself, ‘you’ve got to do something,’” he said in the 2003 story.

It was a sentiment that had a lasting impact on Eastern Washington communities and basketball players. Humphrey enrolled at Spokane Community College, playing basketball there for two years under coach Hank Coplen. He received his AA degree and then transferred to Eastern Washington State College in 1966, receiving a bachelor of arts degree in physical education in 1968.

While not playing basketball for the Savages, Humphrey did begin his coaching career during his student teaching at Shadle Park High School in 1967, becoming a part of Dave Robertson’s staff.

Humphrey landed his first head coaching stint in at Lacrosse High School, beginning a career that ended 34 years later with a record of 552-277, going 26-23 in state playoff games with 30 winning seasons, taking 24 teams to districts and 16 to state that included nine state trophies and two state runner-up finishes. At Lacrosse, Humphrey’s teams made state three of his four years, placing third in 1972.


After a year in class A with Chewelah, Humphrey returned to the B ranks at Ritzville. He took the Broncos to state at the old Spokane Coliseum from 1975-1977, earning trophies each year — including a loss to Brewster in the 1976 title game.

In 1980, Humphrey was hired by then athletics director Jim Hatch as Cheney High School’s boys’ basketball head coach — where he would spend the next 22 years before retirement in 2002. Cheney had placed second in state the year before Humphrey’s arrival, and his first two years the team went 11-9 each year, putting a little pressure on the new coach.

“I think you always feel pressure, and also the pressure you put on yourself,” Humphrey said in 2003.

The Blackhawks returned to state in 1983, placing third. They went to state eight more times under Humphrey, losing to O’Dea in the 1997 2A title game.

During his career, Humphrey won 13 league titles and eight district titles. At Cheney he was Frontier and Border leagues’ coach of the year many times and District 7 coach of the year in 1986. Focusing on defense, his teams allowed the fewest points in league play 21 times.

Humphrey is the fourth winningest coach in Washington high school basketball. He served three years on the District 7 Basketball Advisory Committee, received the Inland Empire Sports Broadcasters 25-year Service Award and is a member of the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.


After retirement, he joined the coaching staff at Eastern Washington University for four years, two of which during his son Rhett’s playing days.

In the 2003 Cheney Free Press story, Humphrey expressed no regrets at not following his passion for a major league baseball career. Eastern Washington basketball fans would agree.

“I’m glad it worked out the way it did,” he said.

HUMPHREY SERVICES

Services for Denny Humphrey will be held on Oct. 11, at 2 p.m. at Faith Bible Church, 600 West Cora Ave. in Spokane.

John McCallum can be reached at jmac@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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