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March 2019 Hero of the Month: Coach Shan Deniston

Like most people I know, the  greatest debt of gratitude in my life is my parents: because they did so much to instill in me the right values and supported me with endless acts of kindness, and they also sacrificed for me.

Second only to my parents: my teachers: from Francis W. Parker School (Jim Peterson, Adm. Ralph Benson, Capt. Cook, Mr. Krebs, Mrs. Shore) from La Jolla Country Day (Bill Goodell, Mrs. Brunet, Mr. Smith, Bud Macatee, Coach Wigley), from Claremont Men’s College (Harold W. Rood and many more), from Hastings Law School (Rudy Schlessinger and many others). Almost half a century later, they are with me now and will always be in my heart and at the forefront of my memories of childhood and early adulthood.

The article below pays homage to Coach Deniston, but is ultimately a tribute to great teachers who, because of their dedication and devotion to their students, have shaped countless lives for the better, and often served as surrogate parents to those who never had a stable and loving family life.

Julie and I have tried to honor our parents and our teachers with our long-standing support of The Monarch School for homeless and disadvantaged children (see, Hero of the Month, April 2014). Frankly, as hard as we try we can never do enough to honor their legacy. I hope you enjoy and appreciate this tribute to Coach Deniston and draw from it the enormous importance great teachers and coaches play in the formation of productive and happy adults.

Cheers for Coach Shan Deniston’s 100th Birthday

by John Maffei , San Diego Union Tribune Reporter published in The San Diego Union Tribune, March 3, 2019

Former Lincoln High players (left to right) Doug Jones, Wally Henry, Jerry Powell and Robert West — all of whom played in the NFL — gathered Saturday to celebrate the 100th birthday of their coach, Shan Deniston. (photo by Chadd Cady)

It was a gloomy, rainy afternoon, yet the stars were out.

Some of Lincoln High’s brightest came to the Lakeside Community Center to pay tribute to their coach and mentor Shan Deniston, celebrating his 100th birthday as well as 70 years of marriage to his wife, Genny.

“A lot of us, his players, didn’t have fathers,” said Robert West, who went on to play at San Diego State and in the NFL.

“So we needed a man of character in our lives.

“If we had turmoil, trouble at home, we could go to coach.

“He was always fair, always had an answer — on or off the field.

“He wasn’t afraid to give a player a kick in the butt. But he was quick with a pat on the back, too.”

Nearly 100 attended the event Saturday, highlighted by son Mike, daughters Robin and Leslie and grandchildren, nephews, cousins and friends as well as former players and their wives.

Deniston, who celebrated his birthday in January, was born in Long Beach, grew up in Compton and went to Alhambra High. He met Genny while they were students at Pepperdine. He became a graduate assistant football coach at Pepperdine, then went on to coach at Drake.

A catcher, he played 13 years of professional baseball, making stops in El Paso, Portland, Boise, Idaho Falls, Belleville, Olean, Des Moines and Colorado Springs.

Answering a call for teachers in the San Diego school district in 1955, he spent two years at La Jolla.

It was at Lincoln, however, where he made his greatest impact, coaching football from 1957-69.

From 1964-68, the Hornets were 41-9. The ’65 Lincoln team went 10-1, beating Point Loma 21-14 in the San Diego Section title game.

The ’67 Lincoln squad was also 10-1, outscored its opponents 313-76, and beat St. Augustine in the championship game.

Deniston also compiled a 149-50 record as baseball coach and later became a baseball umpire and basketball official.

“Every time I see Coach, I feel good,” said Doug Jones, who played for the Hornets and later in the NFL.

“It’s just a pleasure being around him.

“He was a blessing when we played for him. He’s a blessing now.

“He was a player’s coach.

“A lot of coaches are all about ego. It was never ‘I’ with Coach. It was always ‘we.’ We had so much talent, but he knew what to do with it, never messed up a good team.

“I coached for 30 years, and I always referenced him in my speeches to the team.”

Jerry Powell was the quarterback on Lincoln’s ’67 team.

He, too, went on to play professionally.

“If you played for Coach, you left your ego in the locker room,” Powell said.

“Obviously, the man was a great coach, but he touched so many lives. He put us in positions that brought out the best in us, utilized our talents.

“He taught sports as a life lesson. He taught us to respect our elders.

“From Pop Warner, to high school, college and the pros, I played for a lot of coaches.

“Without a doubt, Shan Deniston was the best man I ever played for.”

Wally Henry was one of the biggest names to play for Deniston, going on to star for UCLA in the Rose Bowl and winning a Super Bowl as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

“It was really hard for young men to stay positive and focused, especially in the late ’60s and ’70s,” Henry said. “But Coach kept kids on track.

“My goal was to play in college and the pros. He helped me accomplish that.

“He had great relationships with his players. He treated his players like men, and in return we all respected him.”

Deniston, in a wheelchair, was wearing a red 1965 Breitbard All-Star Game jacket that looked as good as new.

His mind at 100 is still sharp.

“The only way I made it to 100 was because I’ve been married for 70 years,” Deniston said. “To have all these people — relatives coming in from out of town, former players — is really special.

“It means an awful lot.”


Thanks, Coach Deniston and Coach Wigley. — Jim  

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