Las Vegas High School
Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Whenever they were short a coach at Las Vegas High School, Melvin Washington would get a call. Washington was the Wildcats’ longtime basketball coach but never hesitated helping out in football or track, or whatever administrator Frank Nails needed.
“Mel was such a well-rounded guy. He was the kind of guy you could count on to do everything and coach everything,” Nails said. “I can’t say enough about his character. He was one of the good ones.”
Washington, who also coached at Rancho, Desert Pines, Western and John C. Fremont Middle School during a three-decade coaching career, died Saturday in Las Vegas. He was 66.
As word of his passing started to spread last weekend, many have reached out to his widow, Dora Washington, to share a story or two of Washington’s good deeds. The phone calls have been nonstop.
“The kids knew he cared,” she said. “He was a tough coach, but he did it in kindness. He could relate to the kids and they had trust in him.”
Washington was determined to give players a good high school experience, frequently putting his coaching stipend back in the program to provide meals or equipment for the children, his widow said. All he wanted in return was for the teenagers to have a better life. He also worked for the city in the summers as an aquatics supervisor.
“Coach, you have no idea the impact you made on my life as a young man just moving to Las Vegas. It was your upbeat outlook on life, relating to the youth in general and keeping us accountable that taught us how to grow,” former player Jerrad Swestka posted on his Legacy obituary page.
Washington was a three-sport athlete at Las Vegas High in the 1970s. That’s when he first met Nails, who was the football coach at Bishop Gorman.
“He was a lineman and played both ways. We tried to stay away from him when we ran the ball,” Nails said.
After graduating from the University of Colorado, Washington returned to Southern Nevada to begin his teaching and coaching career at Fremont. Nails recruited him to transfer around the corner to Las Vegas, which at the time was located in downtown.
“He was like my adopted son,” Nails said. “Just a good kid. I can’t say enough about him. If there was a problem on campus, you would tell Mel and he would take care of it. He brought people together, black, white, brown. It didn’t matter.”
Washington found his niche coaching girls basketball later in his career at Western and Desert Pines. He was known as a friendly face on the sideline who “always had a joke to tell and a laugh to back it up,” the Centennial program posted on Twitter.
“He spent his entire career making people laugh,” Dora Washington said.
Washington is survived by his son Bobby “Pudge” Henderson, brother Greg Heard, sisters Faye Heard and Gail Williams, and numerous nieces and nephews.
A viewing is set for 9:30 a.m. Monday at Palm Eastern Mortuary and Cemetery, 7600 Eastern Ave. A service follows at 10:30 a.m.