Plenty of people claim to be sports fans, but it’s unlikely that their intense passion for athletics and competition will ever match Norm Lowery’s.
Lowery, who coached the Everett High School boys basketball team for 18 seasons from 1955-1973, once told his sons that if he could somehow plan his death he would choose to pass away at halftime of a state tournament basketball game.
Lowery’s unusual wish wasn’t granted. After enduring a variety of health problems, including rheumatoid arthritis as well as lung and heart difficulties, he died at age 84 Aug. 28 in his Everett home.
It’s not accurate, actually, to say that Lowery, who played basketball and golf at what was then known as Washington State College, merely loved sports. More than that, family and friends said, he cherished the countless individuals he met as a coach and an educator he also taught at Everett High.
Lowery so thoroughly enjoyed his life as a coach/teacher that he considered neither pursuit a job.
“Dad always said, ‘I never went to work a day in my life,’” said Mike Lowery, one of three children all sons that Norm Lowery had with his wife, Nancy Lowery.
Following his successful coaching career Norm Lowery was thoroughly recognized for the impact he made. He is a member of the Washington State High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame, a charter inductee into the Everett High School Coaches Hall of Fame, and was The Herald’s Man of the Year in Sports in 1961.
The tribute that undoubtedly meant the most to Lowery, however, came on Dec. 28, 2002 when Everett High’s indoor sports complex officially became Norm Lowery Gymnasium. It was all a bit overwhelming for the former coach, who was always known for deflecting attention and crediting his players for his teams’ success.
“He was embarrassed,” said Norm Lowery Jr., another one of Norm Lowery’s sons, “but he loved it.”
Although Norm Lowery never sought recognition, he ultimately received loads of it. It’s because he found a way to have a positive, lasting effect on seemingly ever person he encountered, whether it was a mediocre player, a longtime coaching rival or merely a stranger.
Playing for Norm
After coaching at Ferndale High, Norm Lowery took a job as an assistant boys basketball coach at Everett High. By 1955 he was the Seagulls’ head coach. For nearly two decades he molded squads known for their disciplined approach, fitness and sportsmanship.
Lowery’s run at Everett yielded 244 victories, nine league championships and seven district titles. The Seagulls won two top-eight state tournament trophies, placing sixth in 1961 and fourth in 1969.
But those numbers don’t say much about what it was like to play for a man known simultaneously as a fiery disciplinarian and an approachable joker.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around. My basketball career and playing with the team (we) had was probably some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and that’s because of Norm Lowery,” said Dennis Erickson, a 1965 Everett High graduate who played on the varsity team for three seasons.
Erickson, who became a well-known coach himself and currently leads the Arizona State University football team, played for Everett’s 1964-65 squad that went 22-2 and played in the state tourney.
Erickson described Lowery as a skilled hoops strategist who had a wonderfully dry sense of humor and an “unbelievable” impact on his coaching career. “It was special to play for him,” said Erickson.
Glenn “Jeep” Carpenter played two seasons at Everett under Lowery before graduating in 1967. The coach was a strong disciplinarian who often yelled and screamed, Carpenter said, but there was a lesson in every word.
“I loved the guy. We all did,” said Carpenter, an attorney at Everett law firm Anderson Hunter. “He expected you to give your best and to be accountable for what happened. He wanted the best for you.”
Continuing the legacy
Although Norm Lowery never encouraged his sons to follow in his footsteps, all three of them ultimately took different paths into coaching boys hoops and teaching. Norm Lowery Jr., Mike Lowery and Tom Lowery started their coaching careers outside of Snohomish County but eventually added to the local legacy started by their father.
The brothers all played for their dad at Everett. Ultimately, they saw happiness and fulfillment in his life and sought the same. Coaching proved to be just as rewarding for them as it was for Norm Lowery Sr.
The brothers said they learned a lot from their dad, everything from defensive strategy to how to treat student-athletes. But Norm Jr., who was head coach at Lake Stevens High, Mike (Marysville-Pilchuck) and Tom (Mariner) said Norm Sr. let them work through their struggles; he never gave advice unless it was requested, unlike some over-the-top former coaches.
Norm Sr. often attended games in which his sons coached. He would sit cross-legged in the stands, looking nervous the whole time, jaw clenched. Once he bit down so hard while watching one of Tom’s Mariner teams that he broke a tooth.
The last anniversary
“I grew up with Ozzie and Harriet,” Mike Lowery said of his parents, whose wholesome, happy relationship resembled the one portrayed by a fictional couple in the famous TV show.
Norm Lowery met his future wife when they were students at Washington State. A mutual friend a football player introduced them. They connected immediately, went out for a Coke and were together from then on.
“He was easy to get along with. We had a great time, until he took up golf,” Nancy Lowery said, laughing.
Nancy learned a lot about basketball during her marriage to Norm. She was a regular at Everett games and always listened to the team’s away contests on the radio when she couldn’t make the trip.
Nancy supported her husband when he survived a near-fatal heart attack in 1993. After dealing with serious health issues of her own, she helped care for Norm up until his final days.
The evening before Norm died, son Mike visited him. Mike reminded his dad, who by then was essentially immobile and used an oxygen pump around the clock, that the following day, Aug. 28, was his 58th wedding anniversary.
Norm smiled, Mike said, and told his son to not worry; he hadn’t forgotten.
Nine hours later, at about 2 a.m. the next morning, Norm died. He had been in pain and his family knew he was ready to go. But he held out long enough, for a few brief but meaningful hours, to share one final anniversary with his wife.
A friend to all
Some people have a knack for connecting with people in spite of key differences. It’s a gift Norm Lowery used to build a collection of friendships that seems too big to document.
Players, opposing coaches, teaching peers they all found something likable about Lowery, a World War II veteran who worked hard-labor jobs during the summer when he wasn’t coaching and teaching.
Even apparent enemies became his pal.
On the surface, longtime Cascade High boys hoops coach Reg Scodeller seemed an unlikely candidate to befriend Lowery. The men engaged in some epic mid-game shouting matches, according to former players, and coached opposing teams whose players often openly loathed each other.
Yet every time after Lowery and Scodeller coached against each other, they ended up hanging out at one of their houses afterward, getting along like lifelong buddies. News of the friendship often shocked players who figured the coaches couldn’t stand each other, said Carpenter, the former Everett player.
Tom Lowery said of his dad, “He was (always) very comfortable. It didn’t matter who he was with. People were just drawn to him for whatever reason.”
Thursday afternoon hundreds maybe thousands of those people will gather at Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett to remember Norm Lowery, the man who enriched their lives with a highly admired mix of coaching, teaching and humor.