Legendary Hall of Fame Coach Vernon C. Eppinette passed away late Monday, May 12, 2014, after a long battle with cancer. Vern was surrounded by his family as he ended his journey as coach, mentor, educator, and friend, leaving a legacy in all the hearts he touched.
Coach Eppinette was born on March 7, 1949, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to Robert and Colette Eppinette. Vern’s passion for sports was evident early on as he competed in basketball, swimming, football, and track & field as a Charleston High School Trojan in Illinois. He went on to graduate from Eastern Illinois University, and he also served his country in combat as a United States Marine in the Vietnam War.
Vernon Eppinette began his memorable career in coaching in 1974, spanning 26 years, three high schools, and seven state titles. Although most known for his success with the Port St. Joe Tiger Shark Basketball Program, Coach Epp also took home top honors in the state coaching track & field. His 724 combined total wins, seven state titles, ten final fours, and 15 Sweet Sixteen appearances pale in comparison to his seven consecutive FHSAA Sportsmanship Awards. Vern’s coaching philosophy was built on the foundations of discipline and sportsmanship, and he was quick to say that out of all the accolades during his career, he valued the sportsmanship awards the most.
Coach Eppinette was a five-time Florida Basketball Coach of the Year, a two-time finalist for the National High School Coaches Association Basketball Coach of the Year, a member of the FACA Hall of Fame as well as the FHSAA Hall of Fame. Coach was most proud, however, of the votes of confidence given to him by his players. Des Baxter, former PSJHS player, recalled: “I looked up to him like a father. He was always there when I needed some advice, whether it was something on the court or off the court.” This is Coach Vernon Eppinette’s true legacy.
Vern met and married a fellow teacher, Judy. Since his retirement in 2004, he has enjoyed spending time with his family while continuing to follow the sports he so loved. Throughout the years, Coach Epp has mentored more than 50 coaches on both the high school and college level.
In addition to his wife, Vern is also survived by Judy’s four sons, Don Campbell (Patricia), Lance Campbell (Tammy), Roy Campbell (Suzette), and Seth Campbell. Coach Epp leaves behind three siblings as well: Monique Keppler (Mike) of Sherman, Illinois, and their children Matthew, Marc, Melissa, and Michelle; Philip Eppinette of Charleston, Illinois; and Elizabeth Lidonne of France, and her children Xavier and Guillaume. Vern’s best friend from childhood, Les Easter (Valerie), was also by his side in his last hours. Coach Eppinette’s passing is also mourned by the many players and students he touched throughout his career, and it is a comfort to his loved ones to know that his influence will continue in their lives for many years to come.
We will celebrate the life of Coach Vernon C. Eppinette in The Dome at Port St. Joe High School, where he felt so at home, on Saturday, May 17, 2014. Visitation will be held from 3:00-5:00 E.T. and the Celebration of Life will be at 5:00 E.T. Interment will follow at Holly Hills Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Coach Vernon C. Eppinette Scholarship Fund via Sissy Worley, Director of Finance for the Gulf County School Board.
Pallbearers will be former Port St. Joe High School retired collegues: Gary Howze, Chris Earley, Wayne Stevens, Carl White, Rodney Herring, Clarence Monette, Phil Lanford, and Steve Maxwell. Honorary Pallbearers will consist of former players, support staff, and coaching staff. The family would also like to invite all coaches and other affiliated athletic officials and staff to sit in this reserved section.
Port St. Joe’s Athletic Director John Palmer summed it up best: “Thanks for setting standards that the rest of us coaches should try to reach.” Coach Epp’s phenomenal success earned him not only a spot in the Port St. Joe High School Hall of Fame, but also in the hearts of all those who loved him. In his memory, the gym floor in The Dome at Port St. Joe High School will forever be known as “Coach Epp Court.”