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COACHING LEGEND: Crest’s Ed Peeler is remembered for state titles, developing Crest into successful athletic program

By Richard Walker

The most influential figure in Crest High School athletic history died earlier this week.

Ed Peeler

Edwin Eugene “Ed” Peeler, 86, died on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023 at Peak Resources Assisted Living Center in Cherryville.

To honor the life of Peeler a memorial service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, at 3 p.m. The family will receive friends from 1-3 p.m. in the Ed Peeler Gymnasium at Crest High School prior to the service. Burial will follow at Sunset Cemetery, Rev. Sally Queen will offer words of encouragement to those in attendance.

Online condolences may be made at www.cecilmburtonfuneralhom.com. Shelby’s Cecil M. Burton Funeral Home & Crematory is serving the family of Mr. Peeler.

Ed Peeler’s impact on the Chargers’ athletic program cannot be understated as he was the school’s first athletic director, first boys basketball coach, the winningest coach in school history and the school’s gymnasium bears his name.

A 1955 Shelby High graduate, 1957 Gardner-Webb Junior College graduate and 1959 Appalachian State graduate, Peeler began a 39-year career as a Cleveland County teacher and coach in the fall of 1959 at old Mooresboro High School.

After two years there, Peeler guided the original Crest High to its only state championship (in baseball) before coming to the current Crest High School in 1967 and guiding the school to its only basketball state championships.

As head coach, he guided his high school basketball teams to a 562-362 record, his high school baseball teams to a 108-61 record and his lone American Legion baseball team (Shelby Post 82 in 1967) to a 13-7 record to give him a 683-430 overall record.

Sports Illustrated cover of 1974 magazine in which former Crest High star David Thompson led N.C. State past UCLA and Marquette in the Final Four.

Additionally, as athletic director, Peeler led Crest through school integration when it first opened in 1967 highlighted by the school’s first athletic star David Thompson in addition to leading the program from the old Western N.C. High School Activities Association to N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3A in 1977 to Class 4A in 1985. During his tenure, he hired Chargers’ coaches that would guide the school to success in virtually every sport.

For his efforts, Peeler has been honored many times.

He was inducted into the Cleveland County Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, the N.C. Athletic Directors Association Hall of Fame in 2001 and the N.C. High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2004. Crest named its gymnasium after Peeler in 2000 and in the 100th year of the NCHSAA in 2013, Peeler was among the “100 to remember coaches.”

His first great coaching success came in 1965 when he guided old Crest – which stood for Cleveland Rural Education Stands Together – to the N.C. Class 1A state tournament at Durham’s Paul Sykes Gymnasium after winning the District 6 title in Morganton.

The following year, Peeler’s old Crest baseball team – which were nicknamed “Falcons” – began an area record winning streak of 34 straight games with a N.C. Class 1A state championship.

The 1966 Falcons went 9-0 to win the Foothills Conference to close a 12-0 regular season before winning six straight state playoff games on its way to the title. Five of the six playoff games were played on the road – Crest hosted a third round game at Gardner-Webb – before sweeping Cleveland High two games to none – 8-7 in 9 innings and 8-6 – in games played at Campbell College in Buies Creek to win the championship.

In 1967, Crest’s baseball team won its first 16 games that included one playoff game at Charlotte’s old Griffith Park before losing two straight games to Robersonville 4-1 and 9-2 for the 1A state championship played at Shelby’s old Sumter Street Park.

Peeler built both Crest basketball programs into among the state’s best.

He coached seven of the school’s 13 1,000-point career scorers – Thompson (1971 graduate), Louis Crosby (1974), Jimmy Huskey (1977), Bobby Huskey (1979), Oundray Petty (1984), Tee Burton (1987) and Alex Leary (1991) – the school’s all-time single-season scorer (Thompson) and had two players score 51 points in a single game (Thompson and Harvey Petty).

Crest’s 1966 baseball state championship team.

At old Crest, four of his six teams advanced to the state playoffs before current Crest became the dominant program in the old Southwestern Conference with 17 playoff berths in 29 seasons.

An upset win over rival Shelby in the 1968 Southwestern Conference tournament semifinals advanced the Chargers to the new school’s first-ever appearance in WNCHSAA state playoffs.

In 1971, with Thompson as the star player, Crest advanced to the state title game and started a seven-year streak of appearances in the WNCHSAA’s eight-team championship tournament. The stretch was highlighted by back-to-back WNCHSAA championship game victories in 1973 and 1974 (over Shelby both times).

Also during that title run, Crest hosted a N.C. State Red-White scrimmage featuring Thompson and other members of the Wolfpack’s eventual 1974 NCAA championship team in November 1973.

In the school’s first year as a N.C. High School Athletic Association member in 1977-78, Crest advanced to the N.C. 3A championship tournament at Durham where the Chargers lost to powerful Washington High during the first of its two straight state titles; That Washington team included future Basketball Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins, future Wake Forest star Alvis Rogers and future UNC Wilmington star Shawn Williams.

Peeler later guided Crest’s 1992 team into the Western N.C. 4A regionals.

In all, Peeler guided the Chargers to 14 regular season titles and 10 conference tournament titles in addition to the two state titles and 11 trips to the Elite Eight.

When current Crest opened in 1967, Peeler’s coaching staff included former pro baseball player, Shelby High and Gardner-Webb football standout Paul Roberts as the first football coach, Cleveland County’s all-time leading basketball scorer and former Gardner-Webb standout Joan Cline Lattimore – she scored 3,384 points for old Waco High – as girls basketball head coach and future Cleveland County Sports Hall of Fame inductee W.E. “Bill” Halyburton as baseball coach.

Among the football coaches he later hired were Max Beam, Sid Bryson, John Taylor, Mike Stewart in Roy Kirby, with Beam leading the school to its first playoff appearance in 1973, Taylor to its first conference title in 1980, Stewart to the first two of its six state football titles in 1994 and 1996 and Kirby to its third and fourth state titles in 2003 and 2004.

Crest’s 1973 WNCHSAA basketball state championship patch.

Among the girls basketball coaches Peeler later hired were Ginger Hamrick, Lynn Lee, Merry Lynn Ramsey and Bill Ellis, with Hamrick guiding Crest to the 1982 state title game, Lee (1991), Ramsey (1993) and Ellis (1997) to the third three conference titles. Ellis also later became Crest’s boys basketball coach and led the Chargers to the 2005 N.C. 3A boys state championship game.

Among the baseball coaches he later hired were Bill Cameron, Mike Stewart and Louie Grigg, with Cameron guiding the Chargers to the 1985 Western N.C. 3A title game. (Cameron also was hired as the school’s first soccer coach in the 1983.)

Other coaching hires include Jim Hutchins, Coleman Hunt and Suzanne Grayson.

Hutchins guided a 1985 Crest golf team with future UNC Charlotte golfer Caleb Nolley and future North Carolina golfer (and current Gardner-Webb men’s golf coach) Tee Burton finished as N.C. Open classification state runner-up. Hunt was wrestling head coach when Lee Gragg won the 188-pound weight class individual state title in 1986. And Grayson’s 1993 Chargers’ volleyball team finished as N.C. 4A runner-up.

Following his retirement, Peeler volunteered and served as a board member of the Cleveland County Boys and Girls Club, Earl Scruggs Center, Cleveland County Fellowship of Christian Athletes Sports Hall of Fame Committe and worked at the Shelby City Park Golf Course.

A longtime member of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, he greeted members and guests each Sunday and also served as a Sunday School teacher.

Born on Dec. 5, 1936, he was the son of the late Edwin Hugh Peeler and Elsie Whitener Peeler and brother to the late Michael Peeler. He was also preceded in death by his wife, Dorotha Faye Peeler, and two infant sons, Robert and Vance Peeler. He is survived by son, Todd Peeler and wife Paula; their children, Jonathan and Abigail Peeler. Also surviving are his remaining siblings, Joe and Irene Peeler of Texas, Charlie and Starr Peeler of Shelby, Phil Peeler of Shelby, Linda Hendrick of Lattimore, Tim and Sheila Peeler of Shelby, along with their children, and sister-in-law, Debbie Peeler.

Memorials can be made to Hospice of Cleveland County, 951 Wendover Height Dr. Shelby, NC 28150 and/or Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland County, P.O. Box 2001 Shelby, NC 28151.