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Sportswriter Kokon, Valley Legend, Dies

Resident of Sherman Oaks, 85, covered high school athletics in the region for more than 60 years.

September 25, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pete Kokon, a sportswriter who chronicled the lives and achievements of San Fernando Valley high school athletes for more than 60 years, was found dead in his Sherman Oaks apartment Thursday. He was 85.

Javier Hernandez, a family friend, said he found Kokon in the living room facing a television set tuned to ESPN.

"That fits right in, he was with sports from beginning to end," said Joel Schaeffer, the football coach at Reseda High.

Kokon wrote his first sports story for the old Van Nuys News in 1937 and wrote a daily column, "What's Cookin' with Kokon" for the defunct Valley Times starting in 1946. This week, his column appeared in the weekly San Fernando Sun.

Kokon insisted on driving himself to high school athletic events and he continued to write stories despite mounting health problems. In recent years, he survived a broken hip, a bout with pneumonia, a blood clot in his leg and the implantation of a pacemaker.

He told friends Wednesday he was planning to attend the Grant-San Fernando football game today, then the Birmingham-Reseda game tonight.

"When it comes to the San Fernando Valley, there was no bigger person who cared about the sports programs," said Steve Brener, a former Dodger publicity director and a longtime friend of Kokon's. "His life was to write about his love for sports and love for people. He was second to none. He had an endless love for the Valley and the youth of the Valley."

Kokon lived at the same Dickens Street address in Sherman Oaks since 1926. His father purchased the land to grow strawberries. He graduated from Van Nuys High in 1932 and became friends with two of the most famous sports figures in Van Nuys history, quarterback Bob Waterfield and pitcher Don Drysdale.

His weekly prep columns were "the bible" for high school athletes. In the 1950s, he handicapped each event of the City Section track finals.

In 1965, he helped form the San Fernando Valley Football Foundation, which launched the first Valley all-star game.

Kokon's second love was golf. "There was nothing better to him than parring the 15th hole at Woodland Hills," said Pierce College baseball Coach Bob Lofrano, who honored him in 1996 by naming his team's charity tournament "The Kokon Open."

Kokon enjoyed passing along his golf tips to anybody and everybody.

"Keep your left foot planted," was one of his favorite lines.

Kokon lived his life as if he were still growing up in the Valley during the days of no freeways and wide-open country farms. He eschewed locking his apartment door at night. He refused to lock his car door, leaving the keys under the seat.

"You won't find guys like him anymore," said Jeff Halpern, a City Section administrator and former basketball coach at Reseda High. "He had a long, rich life."

Lou Ramirez, who retired this year as athletic director at Birmingham, said he met Kokon in 1954.

"He did more in the early days of the Valley than any other person to publicize high school sports and encourage high school kids," Ramirez said. "He was always positive. He didn't have one favorite school. All were like his kids."

Kokon is survived by his nephew, Curtis Taylor of Buellton. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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