Cox Influenced Youth for Decades
By Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald
June 29, 2009
The final score of a game wasn’t the main thing that drove Ottawa legend Orlis Cox.
He was a man with a vision, always looking at the big picture. He had a purpose.
Cox’s influence went well beyond athletics. His genuine big heart made an impact on Ottawa’s youth from the 1930s to the 1960s.
Most knew about his coaching exploits and the way he guided the Ottawa recreation program for a quarter century.
Those things helped him gain him recognition throughout Ottawa, the state and nationally.
Cox is the fifth Franklin County resident to be selected for the Hall. The others are Steve Grogan, Dick Peters, Arthur Schabinger and E.A. Thomas.
Cox’s biggest accomplishments may be those that were never reported or even known, but by those he touched.
Bud Gollier a 1958 Ottawa High School graduate, recalled how Cox would always be on the lookout for those children with unfortunate circumstances.
He provided many those with shorts and T-shirts – which was required for physical education – if the families could not afford those.
“Orlis Cox was a man that comes around once in a while,” Gollier said. “He had a great effect on the youth of Ottawa. He was a great educator, which is what our schools need.”
Other behind the scenes things included helping those with disabilities.
“He helped teach them to rebuild their bodies before rehab [came into being],” Gollier, who was a longtime doctor in Ottawa, said.
Richard Epps, a 1959 OHS graduate, said what set Cox apart was his character.
“His character was strong, beautiful and inspirational. Just consider for a moment, this was a man who taught physical education, coached track and field, assisted with the football and basketball coaching chores, and supervised a summer youth activities program,” Epps said.
“While important, these duties would not place him very high on the organizational charts of most school districts, nor offer much prestige within the community. Yet he is remembered and revered by generations of OHS students above all the officialdom (principals, superintendents, and assorted ’muckety-mucks’) that he served under because of his outstanding character. I have no idea who superintended the Ottawa school system or served as mayor while I attended school in Ottawa and I barely remember the principals. When I’ve encountered people, who attended school in Ottawa between the 1930s and 1960s, the conversation invariably includes favorable recollections of coach Orlis Cox.”
He was considered the man who taught youth right from worng and made stands when necessary.
One of those stands came in the 1950s as the rec director.
Gollier said Cox had a meeting about opening the pool to all people.
At that time, the pool was only open to whites.
“Orlis was the only one that could do that,” Gollier said. “He was a man of stature. He was a mountain of a man.”
Epps echoed the same sentiments; “In my estimation, coach Cox served as an ‘ethical beacon’ to young people who typically struggle with issues of right and wrong. During my era, his guidance and public stances on matters of racial and social equity was especially helpful and inspiring. He taught young people at the larger issues of life.”
Outside of Ottawa, he was known for his coaching exploits. He coached a 880-yard relay team to the 1933 National Interscholastic Track and Field championship in Chicago.
Gollier said the reason for the win was because Cox knew how each runner would respond to certain situations and put them in the right spots.
Epps, who researched the race and wrote a story that appeared in The Ottawa Herald two years ago, said the key to winning the race was placing the speedy Clarence Heckroot in the third position, which was usually the spot for the slowest racer.
That strategy allowed Ottawa to build a big lead on East Technical of Cleveland and Oak Park, Ill., and anchor runner Jesse Owens.
In the anchor leg, Cox put Jack Richardson, who was known as the better competitor among the foursome. Richardson held off Owens at the finish line.
“Orlis Cox was a damn good track and field coach and he certainly deserves to be inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame,” Epps said.