Dill Howell Award

Ed Niehl

Ed Niehl, Pennsylvanian by birth (Pittsburgh, March 5, 1924) and Washingtonian by choice (Washington State College, now WSU, 1951), built the foundation for decades of athletic success at Bethel High School after he joined the newly consolidated district in its infancy.

An all-around athlete at Highline High School in Des Moines, Wash., he was a running back and defensive back from 1942-44, including an all-league selection at running back in 1944; a forward and guard in basketball; an outfielder in baseball; and a record-setting pole vaulter in track, clearing a league-record 10 feet, 6 inches.

In the Army at Fort Sill, Okla., in 1946, he played running back and defensive back. He was a quarterback and defensive back in college for the Cougars from 1948-50.

While finishing up his degree in early 1951, Niehl was recruited to join the new 220-square-mile Bethel district in southeast Pierce County.

His first task as football and baseball coach was to bring together the athletes from Kapowsin and Roy high schools, 18 miles apart, to create competitive teams representing one school. Niehl drove the bus that took the athletes from Kapowsin to Roy for practices. The Braves rented Cheney Stadium, then located at 38th and Lawrence streets, for football games, and used Breseman Park, on the grounds now covered by Lake Spanaway Golf Course, for baseball.

Bethel opened in the fall of 1952, bringing all the students under one roof. But Niehl, the shop teacher and coach for football and baseball, lacked suitable fields for competition, so he formed the first Bethel Booster Club in 1954. The aim was to bring the Braves back from Cheney Stadium and Breseman Park for games.

Under Niehl's leadership, agriculture and shop teacher Robert Anderson and his students surveyed and planted the field. Money raised built concession stands, ticket booths, a cinder track, bleachers and other improvements at what came to be named Art Crate Field.

On the gridiron, Niehl built a powerhouse. The 1955, the Braves outscored opponents 146-0 while going 6-0-2 in the West Central League. Later in the '50s, the Associated Press declared the Braves state champions, back in the days before playoffs.

While Niehl was hip-deep in organized athletics at Bethel - including 15 years as football coach, five years as baseball coach and seven years as a basketball assistant, along with a stint at athletic director from 1956 until he retired in 1981 - he also helped provide recreational opportunities as the Bethel Area Director of Pierce County Parks and Recreation. Later he organized, coached and played for various 55-and-over slowpitch softball teams at Sprinker Recreation Center, including Grandpa's Lighting and R&B Plumbing.

As an administrator, coach and player up to age 80, Ed Niehl earned recognition as a Dill Howell Award winner.