Gage remembered as hard worker

Jules Gage, a former basketball coach and athletic director at Newport Harbor High and Costa Mesa, died in his sleep Feb. 4.

He was 90.

His youngest daughter, Bonnie, finds peace in believing he died while doing one of his favorite activities. He went to sleep watching the Lakers on the night of Feb. 3, Bonnie said.

"In my heart that's what he was doing," Bonnie said Friday. "He died in his own home watching the Lakers on his big screen TV."

Jules Gage was a Lakers fan. He loved basketball and it turned out to be a game that allowed him to impact many lives in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.

Gage is survived by his wife of 69 years, Helen, and their four children, Pam, Julie, Alan and Bonnie, as well as nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Pam and Bonnie have found the past week extraordinary, as people have offered condolences as well as gratitude of Jules Gage's impact on their lives.

He was known to coach with a strict style and a concentration on discipline. Yet he was also known for his colorful personality. He enjoyed pranks and jokes, especially when he delivered them.

He certainly garnered success for the Sailors and Mustangs. He guided Newport Harbor to five straight winning seasons and Sunset League championships in 1954, '56 and 57. The 1957 squad set a school record for victories in a season with 19.

Gage began teaching and coaching at Newport Harbor in 1949, after attending BYU and serving in the U.S. Navyduring World War II.

Gage's leadership proved vital for Costa Mesa, as he was the school's first athletic director and boys' basketball coach.

In Costa Mesa's second year of varsity basketball, Gage coached the 1962 Mustangs to the CIF Southern Section Division 2-A semifinals. Those Mustangs won their four Freeway League games to earn a playoff berth. Then they made a magical-type run through the playoffs with three more victories, before losing to Bell Gardens, the eventual champion.

Gage had a strong passion for basketball. But he also seemed to love a good challenge. He began as an assistant football coach under Al Irwin.

"He was a hard worker and very dedicated," Irwin said Friday, when he celebrated his 94th birthday. "He came to Newport Harbor in the fall of 1948. He never played football. But you could just tell he learned quickly because he tried so hard. He was only with me for one year."

Irwin noticed Gage had a strong dedication to basketball and admired the way he coached throughout the time he knew him, he said.

Gage earned great respect from other coaches in the area, as well as teachers.

As a physical education teacher, Gage created a popular program, which featured rope climbing and various military-type obstacle courses.

As a coach, he pushed his players to perform at their best.

"Jules was very businesslike and always had the kids in mind," said Roger Carlson, the former longtime sports editor at the Daily Pilot. "He was an outstanding athletic director. You could see that Newport improved under his hand.

"He was a good guy and I always enjoyed his company."

One of Gage's career highlights came in 1966 at Costa Mesa. He had a team that featured Bruce Chapman, Craig Falconer, Bart Carrido and the Mancebo brothers, Rick and Larry.

That team finished 18-8 and faced top-seeded Long Beach Poly in the opening round of the playoffs. The gym was packed for the game at Orange Coast College. The Mustangs put up a fight before losing, 109-81.

Gage suffered a heart attack after that season and never returned to the bench. He went back to Newport Harbor and served as athletic director until 1980, when he retired from the district.

"He was a tough guy," said Pam Ferguson, Gage's daughter. "He didn't make it easy for everybody but he got stuff done. He was also a very family oriented person. He thought everything had to go through him."

Gage enjoyed his career teaching and coaching at Newport Harbor and Costa Mesa.

"I played for 30 years. That's all it was. Just playtime," he told the Daily Pilot in 2002 when he reflected on his career.

After working for the Newport-Mesa School District, Gage served for 16 years as a branch manager of the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society in Camp Pendleton. The organization helps military personnel with issues ranging from financial consulting to general counseling.

He seemed to make an impact on lives wherever he went.

"He just had certain touch about knowing how to get things done," said John O'Brien, a former track and field coach and an assistant football coach at Costa Mesa in its second year. "He will be missed. He was very important to Newport Harbor and Costa Mesa."

A memorial service for Gage will take place Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. at Rancho Carlsbad Community Center at the mobile home park where he lived.

The family request that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Disabled American Veterans at http://www.dav.org.

steve.virgen@latimes.com

Twitter: @SteveVirgen

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