Idaho History: Hec Edmundson was a track star and great basketball coach

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANJanuary 19, 2014 

He was the first Idaho-born athlete to compete in the Olympic games, and one of the nation’s most successful coaches of basketball and track, first at the University of Idaho, his alma mater, and then at the University of Washington.

Clarence Sinclair “Hec” Edmundson was born in Moscow on Aug. 3, 1886. His mother started calling him “Hec” because as a small boy he so often said “Oh heck.” He first achieved modest fame as a fast runner while still in his teens at the U of I prep school when in June 1905 he lowered the Pacific Northwest record for the half-mile run.

In 1908, he traveled to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., for the Western states’ U.S. Olympic trials. He won the 800 meters and took second in the 400 meters but did not make the American team that went to London. That year he organized his school’s first cross-country team, one that in future years would win nine Pacific Coast Conference titles.

Edmundson graduated from the University of Idaho in 1910 with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture, but few could have realized at the time that the crops he would cultivate for the rest of his life were the athletic skills of young men in track and in basketball.

In 1912, Edmundson did make the American team that competed in the Stockholm Summer Olympics, where he placed seventh in the 800 meters and sixth in the 400 meters — not a bad showing for an Idaho boy competing against the world’s best. From 1913 until 1915 he was coach of the U of I track and field team but left for a year to coach track at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., after a salary dispute. He returned to Idaho in 1916, where he coached basketball as well as track. His basketball teams won 20 games and lost nine in two years, and were the first Idaho teams to be dubbed “Vandals.”

Edmundson coached track at Texas A&M for a season before moving to the University of Washington in 1920. He would coach Husky track teams for the next 34 years and basketball teams for the next 27 years, compiling impressive winning percentages and several titles in each. His basketball teams won Pacific Coast Conference championships in 1924, 1928, 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1934 and 1936.

When I enrolled as a freshman at Washington in the fall of 1938, Edmundson was already a legend. His teams had won eight conference championships and had established themselves as proponents of the “fast break” or “race horse” style of basketball, said to be a reflection of their coach’s career in track. I not only never missed a home game in the big athletic pavilion that would be named the Hec Edmundson Pavilion in his honor when he retired, but spent hours every day playing pick-up games in the smaller basketball courts in the building now known simply as “the Hec.”

I often stopped to watch Coach Edmundson drill the varsity team in long practice sessions on the main court. He was a stickler for the basics of running, passing and driving for the hoop. To him, shooting was always secondary to playing as a team, and players could practice that skill on their own.

Edmundson won two more conference championships before his last game in 1947. He coached the track team for another seven years. He died in 1964.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service