Latin Biz Today Honors a Coach Who Informed, Inspired, Mentored & Empowered [Video]

Dr. Les "Coach" Fernandez

Coaching success with understanding and compassion, a conversation with son Richie

As Latin Biz Today partner, VP community relations, I thought it was past due to interview Coach’s son Richie, former police detective. What better time to share our legacy than during Hispanic Heritage Month? The following will serve as additional background to my video.

Richie Fernandez says it all about his father, Leslie Fernandez in one simple sentence.  “He’s a great guy and he made me who I am today.”  Coach’s life however is quite an interesting journey helping many along the way.

Lovingly referred to by his family, friends, students, and extended family as “Coach”, he amassed an incredible legacy as a beloved educator remembered by many as the person who most influenced, and in some cases,  transformed, their lives.

Coach Fernandez’s deep compassion and empathy are at the root of Latin Biz Today’s mission to Inform, Inspire, Mentor & Empower.

Coach’s back story

Born in 1927 in New York City, “Coach” in his youth was assessed as academically inadequate. He was told that the only way he would be able to get a high school diploma was by switching to a vocational high school. Once out of school, Fernandez enlisted in the Army, which sent him to West Germany where interestingly enough, he learned to speak fluent German within a year. His follow-up assignment was as a command staff German language translator!

Post military, Cage Teen Center & EduCage

After his military discharge Fernandez 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, he didn’t think he could make it.
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, Fernandez 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 his wife Natalie. His family grew to include four children and Fernandez needed additional  income. Looking around, he learned about a local canteen and drop-in center for teenagers.A local entrepreneur paid the rent for this 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. The teenagers, whose rowdy, frequent fights often drew the police, named the space The Cage and it stuck.
These teenagers 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. Many of the kids were described as hard-to-reach, alienated and hostile. Fernandez had been a Golden Gloves boxer so the first Cage program he launched, which endured for decades, was in boxing. It was a smart choice, channeling the energies of many hostile youths. Leslie Fernandez had a mixture of compassion, empathy and strength. His students felt seen and understood by him. For many, it was their first experience of real caring from an adult. At the same time, rules, discipline and expectations were an important part of the mix.
From that small beginning, Leslie Fernandez created EduCage, the first true alternative high school in New York’s Westchester County. It gave at-risk teenagers a meaningful chance to succeed in life. Significantly, the school that “Coach” Fernandez created also enjoyed one of the highest graduation rates in New York’s Westchester County leading to his appointment by New York Governor Mario Cuomo as Advisor to the Committee for Alternative Education Programs.
Richie Fernandez, son of “Coach” taught carpentry at EduCage, was an entrepreneur in the construction industry, a White Plains, NY police detective and the President of the PBA, shares his memories of his father and how he influenced his own life and career.

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