Ennis remembered as caring coach, father

EVERETT — Sometimes words from a song perfectly sum up a collective sentiment.

There’s a lyric from the tune “For Good” from the musical “Wicked” that goes, “Because I knew you … I have been changed for good.” Two vocalists and a pianist performed the song Sunday at the start of the two-hour memorial service for football coach Terry Ennis at the Archbishop Murphy High School gymnasium.

Judging by the 2,000-plus people who showed up to remember Ennis and celebrate his many achievements on and off the field, Ennis, who died of cancer Sept. 12, clearly changed their lives for good.

Family members, friends, former and current players, and many others gathered to share sorrow but also to hear and tell stories about a beloved man who everyone agreed was much more than a successful gridiron coach.

Many of the most resounding, insightful comments at the memorial came from Ennis’ three children: Jenny Leger, Amy Schaffler and Joe Ennis. Their job, Leger said, was to give a “complete portrait” of their father, a man known widely for guiding teams to 287 victories in 36 seasons and ranking No. 2 on the state’s career wins list.

Football meant a lot to Ennis, Leger said, but “family meant the world to dad.” And “family” wasn’t limited to blood relatives for Ennis, who Leger said frequently invited underprivileged students to live at his home.

Recalling an experience from when she was 8, Leger said two of her favorite unexpected guests were Iranian exchange students. Ennis took them in after he learned they were constantly struggling to find food and adequate shelter. He did it amid the Iran hostage crisis, when tension between America and Iran was sky high.

Ennis’ gesture taught his children acceptance of others and instilled a sense of compassion, said Leger.

“He didn’t instruct with words,” she said. “He showed with action.”

Ennis, a 1962 Everett High graduate who had battled prostate cancer nearly five years, coached Archbishop Murphy to a victory just four days before he passed away. He ended his retirement from coaching in 2000 to start Murphy’s program in 2000. Previously he had been head coach at Stanwood, Bellarmine Prep, Renton and Cascade. Three of Ennis’ teams won state championships: Cascade (1991) and Murphy (2002 and 2003).

Some might wonder why Ennis didn’t step away from the game when his health declined so severely. But Ennis’ children said their father’s love for the game and the people he met by coaching kept him going until the end.

Originally Ennis planned to become a lawyer, said Schaffler, Ennis’ other daughter. But ultimately he chose to follow the same path as his father, Jim Ennis, and became a coach and teacher.

It wasn’t necessarily because Terry Ennis loved football. According to Joe Ennis, Terry’s son, when asked if he had fun coaching, the notoriously grim-faced, sideline-prowling coach said, “No, not really. But it’s who I am.” Joe said his dad told him the best part — the real reason he coached — was to get to know student-athletes and watch them go on to bigger and better things.

Speaking of big, Terry Ennis wasn’t. Although he was a standout athlete at Everett High and later at what’s now called Santa Clara University, Ennis was slim and “5-7, maybe,” said Schaffler.

It didn’t matter. Ennis was a giant in other ways.

“My dad was not a tall man,” Schaffler said, “but there was nothing small about him or his life.”

Proof of that claim was the massive audience, which overflowed from the gym into two other large rooms on campus where the service was televised. The crowd was a “who’s who” collection of well-known coaches, administrators and officials from the county and across the state.

Football coaches in attendance included Dick Abrams (Stanwood High), Mark Perry (Snohomish High), Mark Stewart (Meadowdale) and Eric Dinwiddie (Granite Falls). Also there were former Cascade High boys basketball coaches Charlie Cobb and Jerry Koester, both members of the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Murphy players past and present showed up, including former stars like Axel Wolff, Stan Smith, David Sinex and Nick Snyder. Kennedy High of Burien brought a bus full of players and coaches. About 20 of Ennis’ former Santa Clara teammates flew in from all over the U.S.

A stirring example of Ennis’ impact came in a letter from Gov. Chris Gregoire. Read aloud by Murphy principal Dr. Kristine Brynildsen-Smith, Gregoire’s message said Ennis’ legacy of victory and personal excellence are an inspiration.

Arizona State University head football Dennis Erickson, who grew up idolizing Ennis, was unable to attend but sent a football signed by his players.

Ennis gained many admirers because of his perseverance, respect for others, preparedness and sacrificial love, said Murphy Chaplain Father Armando Guzmán.

“Terry touched many hearts — many young hearts,” Guzmán said.

With an energetic personality and a creative mind, Ennis was an effective promoter of his teams. Sometimes he went too far though. While at Cascade, Ennis once appeared with uniformed Bruins players in a commercial for a local grocery store. The goofy TV ad, which was shown at the memorial, broke state athletic rules and resulted in Cascade being put on probation by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

Former Cascade principal Gary Axtell recalled the incident with a laugh, noting that most of Ennis’ ideas were less problematic and almost always life-enriching. An example is the Bruin Buddies program Ennis helped start. It matched high school football players with local elementary school students, promoting athletic pride and community involvement.

“We are all better for having known you,” Axtell said, addressing Ennis. “You leave behind a legacy that we will all cherish.”

The legacy grows daily.

The Murphy football team is 2-0 since Ennis’ death. The Wildcats blasted Coupeville 60-22 Sept. 14 on Whidbey Island, two days after Ennis passed away, and they shut out Cedarcrest 28-0 Friday at Terry Ennis Stadium, which in February was named in honor of the coach. Murphy is now 4-0 this season and ranked No. 3 in the WashingtonPreps.com Class 2A poll released Wednesday.

For Joe Ennis, the coach’s son who played for Ennis at Cascade, his dad’s legacy was monumental. Joe said he lost a friend, a leader, a coach and a dad when Terry Ennis died.

When people ask Joe Ennis what it was like to be the son of the famous football coach, Joe answers with a single word:


Contact Herald Writer Mike Cane at mcane@heraldnet.com. For more high school sports news, check out the prep sports blog Double Team at www.heraldnet.com/doubleteam.

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