By Robert Coons
Often in the "minority" community (primarily African or Mexican American Communities), a feeling of hopelessness and despair consumes the aspirations and dreams of our youth, and their families. On very few occasions does hope raise it's head and progress appears. We doubt our own abilities, desires and motivation to continue to struggle against overwhelming odds. We look for a helping hand, but seldom is there one extended to take hold. We desire a change in our environment or circumstance, and a chance to prove what we can accomplish, given a fair shake.
Orlando Coons took a powerful stance against the tremendous odds of our community. Armed with strict and non-compromising values, he had a positive effect foremost on his family and those values proliferated throughout the minority community, and having a resounding effect upon the entire San Diego community.
Coons secured his Bachelor of Science Degree in Engineering from the University Berkeley; Coons' lifelong occupation for thirty-seven years was that of an Aeronautical Aerospace Engineer for the Federal Government at North Island. However his love for Gymnastics is what hundreds of thousands of youngsters who have known him for.
In his earlier years at San Diego State, Coons won a whopping six individual events and the "All Around" competition, at the 1939 and 1940 California College Athletic Association Championships.
Coons' performance in gymnastics was so dominate that the former beloved Dean C.E. Peterson appointed Coons as Head Coach of the San Diego State Gymnastic Team. This appointment made Coons the first African American Coach at San Diego State College. Coons went on to win literally hundreds of Gymnastic competitions and awards. He won 6th place at the 1950 United States Gymnastic Championship. This effort automatically made him a member of the prestigious United States National Gymnastic Team; thus becoming the first African American ever on the United States Gymnastic Team. As a member of the USA Team, Coons participated in the Pan American Games and several international competitions. Coons was considered the best gymnast on the west coast, and one of the elite gymnast of the nation.
The personal accomplishments that Coons secured, took a back seat to the joy he received from helping hundreds of thousands of youngsters learn about life's twist and turns through the sport of gymnastics.
Coons was honored by the National YMCA for being the longest running individual for volunteer service with more than fifty years of coaching gymnastics at the "Y". Further, Coons was a gymnastic coach for over twenty years, for the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department at the Federal Building's Municipal Gym in Balboa Park. Coons also taught gymnastics at Lincoln, Marion, Morse, and Rosary High schools, as well as several schools in the city of El Cajon. Coons coached at the Girls Club of San Diego until his illness would no longer allow him to leave his Valencia Park home.
Coons through his efforts brought forth more National Champions, All Americans, Heisman Trophy Winners, and Professional Athletes than any organized governmental or private sector business, or non-profit agency throughout San Diego County.
His accomplishments were done without any government contracts, foundation money or corporate business sponsorships. Coons was armed only with his physical abilities, his mind, and an undeniable will to serve his community. It proved to be more than enough.
Coons accomplished these goals while at the same time implanting in his family the values that would complement his own love for the community. Coons' beloved wife, Nellie, served as a member on the Model Cities Board of Directors as well as a member of the Downtown YWCA Board of Directors. The oldest son, Orlando "Skip" Coons was Co-Founder of Valencia Park Pop Warner, and Jackie Robinson Memorial Pony League. Skip served as the Outstanding High School Football Coach in the Nation, in 1985 as the Head Coach of Lincoln Prep High School. Skip went on to coach Serra High School to seven play off seasons as head football coach. Steve Coons coached baseball for Encanto Little League, Sunshine Pony League, Sunshine Palomino League and was the Founder of the City Central Palomino League. Margo "Coons" Parks, daughter of Orlando and the "Apple of His Eye", is a Counselor with the San Diego School District at Kennedy elementary School, coached Gymnastics, formulated a Jog - Walk and Talk program and is currently the District Counselor for the Pregnant Teens Program. Robert Coons is a noted boxing coach throughout the Nation, and was one of five National USA Boxing Coaches from 1978 through 1988.
The efforts of Orlando Coons, this "Master Teacher", have an even greater effect upon the countless youths, than one can anticipate. He has give his time to a community faced with overwhelming odds for over sixty-five years. He has given his offspring the motivation and determination to continue to help enhance the quality of life for your youngsters and with twenty Grand children and nineteen Great Grand children his efforts will be felt for generations.
Funeral services for Orlando Coons will be held Tuesday, September 15, 1998, 2 pm at Greenwood Mortuary. In consideration of flowers please send your financial gift to: Orlando Coons Gymnastic Fund, PO Box 564, National City, CA 91951 or call (619) 239-7260.