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Leonard Cohn, legendary CHS football coach

Legendary CHS football coach

Legendary football coach Leonard Cohn died on June 26, 2013 at the age of 93. Coach Cohn inspired hundreds of athletes and students during his 18 years at Claremont High School (CHS) in the 1950s and 1960s. Amassing a formidable football coaching record of 141 wins, 19 losses and one tie, Mr. Cohn led the Claremont Wolfpack to 10 league championships and 2 CIF championships in 1956 and 1958.

“Len Cohn leaves behind a football legend in Claremont,” wrote Fred Claire in the Progress-Bulletin, when Mr. Cohn resigned as head football coach at Claremont High in 1967. Mr. Claire, who later became general manger and executive vice president of The Dodgers, frequently chronicled Mr. Cohn’s accomplishments in his sports column.

When Mr. Cohn started the CHS football program from scratch in 1949, there were a total of 150 students at CHS.  Other area high schools had thousands of students from which to draw. With limited personnel and resources, he single-handedly built the program—coaching, taping players and issuing and cleaning the equipment. He also served as Director of Athletics at Claremont High School and first president of the Southern California High School Coaches Association, an organization with 1200 coaches. Mr. Cohn was the first inductee into the Claremont High School Hall of Fame.

“The distinguishing characteristic of Len Cohn,” said Dr. Robert Benson, who played on the 1958 championship team, “is that he was deeply interested in developing young men as well as football players.”

Ed Wolfe, who went on to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, said, “Coach Cohn is a great, great man. He was the father of football at Claremont High School. He was a second father to all of us.”

Bob Stephenson, who went on to play for University of Oklahoma and was selected outstanding player in the Cotton Bowl, wrote to Coach Cohn, “You have done as much for me as my own father. Besides teaching me football, you taught me pride, leadership and desire.”

Martin Weinberger, former editor of the Claremont COURIER, wrote in 1964 that Coach Cohn’s “half-time orations, especially when Claremont is trailing, have been known to rank among the great motivational talks of all time.” Mr. Weinberger characterized Mr. Cohn as “a practicing psychologist,” with signs “plastered to the dressing room walls, exhorting the players on to greater deeds.”

It was not only athletes who were touched by Mr. Cohn. “Coach gave his heart to CHS and to all of us students,” observed Dail Ruthi Dworak-Crockett, class of 1961.

Mr. Cohn was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1919. One of 4 children, he was a member of the “Clay Hill Gang,” 50 kids who hung together and made just a bit of mischief.

From 1942 to 1946, Mr. Cohn fought with valor in the Army in World War II. Quickly promoted to captain at age 21, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. A graduate of Central Connecticut State University, where he starred as a tailback on an undefeated football team, Mr. Cohn married Florence Lichtenstein in 1947 and they relocated to California and had 5 children. After Mr. Cohn served one year as a high school teacher in San Bernardino, they moved to Claremont, where he became a high school teacher and football and baseball coach.

Known to his players as “The Fox of the Foothills,” Coach Cohn was noted for his college-like football program at Claremont High. Once offered the assistant head coaching job by head Michigan State football coach Duffy Daugherty, Mr. Cohn turned it down. With a wife and 5 children to support, he opted for job security at Claremont High School over the vagaries of college coaching.

Former pro football star Billy Kilmer credited Mr. Cohn for setting up his football career. Mr. Cohn recognized his potential when Mr. Kilmer’s Citrus High squad played against Claremont High in the mid-1950s.

When Mr. Cohn later coached a high school all-star team, he installed a single wing offense to showcase Mr. Kilmer’s talents as a tailback. Mr. Cohn invited UCLA coach Red Sanders to take a look. Mr. Kilmer achieved All American status, playing tailback at UCLA before becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. 

In 1966, Mr. Cohn and his wife Florence divorced. The following year, he moved to Monterey, where he began a second career in the Monterey School District. After 3 years as vice principal at Monterey High School, Mr. Cohn was promoted to director of child welfare and attendance in the district office. He held that position until he retired in 1989.

Mr. Cohn married Catherine Sullivan in 1972 and helped raise her sons. When Catherine died in 1995, Mr. Cohn moved to San Diego to be near 2 of his daughters. He returned to Claremont a few months before his death.

Mr. Cohn is survived by his children, Marjorie Cohn, Gary Cohn, Nancy Cohn Morgan, Susan McGeachy and Terri Peters; by his stepsons, John Sullivan and Joseph Sullivan; and by 15 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren.

A celebration of Coach Cohn’s life will be held on Saturday, August 3 at 3 p.m. in the gymnasium at El Roble Junior High School, 655 N. Mountain Ave. in Claremont. Contributions can be sent to the Claremont High School Hall of Fame.

 

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