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Best Seat in the House

Photography, sports and life as seen through the lens of Seattle Times photographer Rod Mar.

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March 4, 2008 11:59 PM

Basketball Coaches Away from the Court, Part 1

Posted by Rod Mar

Since I've already fessed up that I spend part of my free time working as a high school and college basketball official, I guess I can talk a little about it here.

No, we're not going to talk about the charge/block call, nor whether what constitutes an "over the back" foul (there is no such titled foul in the rule book, by the way). We're going to talk about when my two jobs collide.

To be clear, photography is my vocation; officiating is an avocation. Believe it or not, going out and getting yelled at by coaches and fans is a form of enjoyment for me (one of the best lines I've heard yelled at an official is "GO BACK TO FOOT LOCKER!!!").

Because I shoot sports for a living, many of the coaches I deal with on the court are aware of my "real job". (I should mention here that I am only able to officiate games during the season because fellow shooters — thanks, Erika! —are nice enough to switch some shifts with me.)

So when the occasional assignment has me photographing one of the coaches I work in front of, it's always a little interesting.

The great thing about most high school coaches is that even though we can disagree during a game, when the game is over and you see them on another day they're friendly and approachable. I'm sure that comes from the "teacher" aspect of their jobs. They understand that at their level, sports is important, but that they are there to shape young peoples lives first. They are to be commended.

Prior to the Class 3A Boys State Tournament in Washington, I was asked to shoot two different coaches for separate preview stories on each of them.

Ed Pepple has been the coach of Mercer Island High School for the past 41 seasons, and he's showing no signs of slowing down.

He preaches teamwork to his players, dresses them alike in maroon (the school color) blazers for games, and insists they all get similar haircuts. His program has been a major force in Seattle high school basketball for decades, and this season he coached his team back into the state tournament.

I wanted the photo to reflect all of those ideas. They were practicing, so the maroon blazers were out-of-the-question, but Coach Pepple was accomodating enough to gather the players around him for a quick portrait:

(Canon EOS 1D Mark III, EF 16-35mm/f2.8 zoom @ 24mm, ISO 500, 1/200 sec.,f9.0)

The kid at the far left had the wise idea to "strike a pose" for the shots, and I thought about telling him to knock it off. But a portrait is supposed to be an accurate reflection of the subject, so I let him go.

(And yes, this isn't the finest lighting job in the world. Off-camera flash on a tiny light stand with an umbrella. The umbrella obviously isn't high enough to light the players. I only had a couple of minutes and decided that the players were basically "props" surrounding the coach, so I lived with it. Also, the team was two days away from the state tournament and I didn't want to take too much of their time.)

Two days later, Mercer Island, the fourth-ranked team in the state, lost by 18 points to Columbia River, an unranked team. After the game, Pepple said his players confessed that they hadn't respected their opponents.

"They came out cocky," said Pepple about his team, who called the game "a bad dream."

Was the player at left reflecting that cockiness? We'll never know for sure, but the Islanders dream season ended the next day when they lost their consolation game as well.

Coach Pepple is truly a class act. He knowledgeable, he can be tough, and he has a wonderfully disarming sense of humor, especially off-the-court.

A number of years ago I was officiating a tough game at Mercer Island and my partner was none other than former major league pitcher Jeff Nelson (who was playing for the Mariners at the time and officiating for exercise in the off-season).

Coach Pepple was screaming for a five-second closely guarded call on the opposition that would have given his team the ball in a close game in the final minutes. Instead, "Nelly", as he's affectionately known, granted the opposing player a timeout, allowing them to keep possession. I was closest to Pepple and I knew he'd be mad. "ROD! ROD! HOW CAN HE GIVE THEM TIMEOUT?!!! THAT'S A FIVE-SECOND CALL!!!"

I walked over to him and said, "Well, coach, I don't know. He's a baseball player. You know, three strikes, four balls, maybe he doesn't know how to count to five."

Coach Pepple didn't miss a beat. He just yelled right back at me, "THAT'S NOT FUNNY!" and stormed back to his timeout.

Someday we both might be able to laugh about that one.

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