Hispanic Heritage Month, Dedicated to Les “Coach” Fernandez

 

EduCage staff, circa 1981, Coach in bottom lower left.

Despite this unexpected triumph, after his discharge Fernandez didn’t see himself in any better light. He hired on as a file clerk. During that post-enlistment period, Coach had a chance meeting that changed his life.

Fernandez hadn’t known it, but his high school coach had seen something in him. So when the two accidentally met on the street one day, the young file clerk was surprised when he asked him, “Why aren’t you in college?”

Fernandez answered truthfully: He didn’t think he could make it.

Understanding him better than he understood himself, Fernandez’s former coach promptly walked him straight to the nearby admissions office of New York University. The G.I. Bill opened the door to college, something he had never considered.

After college, the young man entered the New York City Public School system as an industrial arts teacher and later, guidance counselor. It was at his first school that he met Natalie; they were married within a year.

As his family grew to include four children, Fernandez needed additional  income. Looking around, he learned about a local canteen and drop-in center for teenagers.

The center wasn’t much, that’s for sure.

A local entrepreneur paid the rent for an old bowling alley space. It was windowless, lit with fluorescent lights and sported a single amenity: a plywood slab held up by milk cartons that served  as a ping-pong table.

Originally dubbed The Sugar Bowl, the teenagers, whose rowdy, frequent fights often drew the police, renamed their space The Cage. The name stuck.

The youths definitely needed supervision.  Community involvement provided the funds for someone to work at The Cage six nights a week. It turned out to be Fernandez.

The teenagers were a challenge to Fernandez, who was then 34. Many were economically disadvantaged. But family pathology is an equal opportunity affliction. Destabilizing problems endured by many of Cage’s teenagers ranged from broken homes, alcoholism or drug addiction of one or both parents, to abuse and simple, garden-variety neglect.

 

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About the author

Nona Aguilar

Nona Aguilar is an award-winning journalist specializing in family health. In addition to articles that have appeared in major women’s magazines, she has written three books, including The New No-Pill, No-Risk Birth Control on natural family planning.