Longtime Clover Park High School boys basketball coach Mel Ninnis has died, his son, Ryan, confirmed to The News Tribune. Ninnis, 65, was battling stage 4 bladder cancer, a diagnosis he received June 10.
He was transferred to a Franciscan Hospice center in University Place, where he spent the past few weeks of his life surrounded by friends, family and former players. He died around 2 a.m. Tuesday, according to his son.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Ryan Ninnis said. “It’s a surreal situation how fast everything came out.”
Ninnis said the situation was made easier by the faith his dad had in Jesus.
“Our faith is so strong, and his is, as well,” Ninnis said. “It creates such a peace that is so unfathomable. We’re devastated by his loss. We’re a great family and have great support. It comes back to our faith in the Lord that really is everything. … We were praying for God to either heal him or take him home. It was a beautiful time to pray over him, love him, kiss on him, hold his hand. Some of (his former players) got to come and do the same.”
That’s what Ryan would want people to remember about his dad: His faith in the Lord and the servant leadership that he coached with for so many years. For Ninnis, it was always bigger than basketball.
“He taught his players how to be a good man, a good husband, what it looks like to be a good father,” Ryan said. “Those life principles. … He was just an amazing father to his children, an amazing husband to my mom. There’s no man that could come close to the greatness of my father.”
Ryan said the family has received hundreds of phone calls and messages from former players. The family has been grateful for the outpouring of support.
“(Seeing) the impact of how he changed their lives,” he said. “He inspired great men to serve their families and communities and sacrifice. So many thousands of lives have been changed because of it.”
Ninnis took over as the head coach at Clover Park in 1995. He amassed a 386-205 record through the 2020 season that includes 14 league and district titles, six state tournament appearances and the 2011 state title.
“I was lucky enough to work his only state title game,” referee Mike Stephenson told The News Tribune in July, when a vigil was held at St. Joseph for Ninnis. “He’s one of the class acts.”
The family will make memorial and/or funeral plans soon.