BEDFORD — Texas Gymnastics icon Emil Milan passed away early Monday morning. He suffered complications from gallbladder surgery last week.

Milan was a titan in the Texas gymnastics community and left an indelible mark on those he came in touch with.

"Passionate, driven, an ultimate winner," is how Roland Rangel describes his former coach.

Milan was the pioneer in the sport, starting the state's first high school gymnastics program at L.D. Bell High School in the mid-196's. And Milan's Raiders won the first-ever state championship meet in 1967.

"He lived and breathed gymnastics and he just breathed it into us," said Rangel.

Former L.D. Bell gymnastics coach Emil Milan (on the left) works with one of his aspiring athletes.
Former L.D. Bell gymnastics coach Emil Milan (on the left) works with one of his aspiring athletes.

The result is a jam-packed trophy case at Bell that includes Milan's 14 state titles coaching boys and three more girls titles.

Milan's greatness wasn't just in winning, though. His friends called him a "fireball" able to motivate and elevate his kids. He taught as many life lessons as those about sport, and in so doing, created a legacy touching thousands.

"He told us you need to promote the sport," said Rangel, who was the head gymnastics coach at Haltom High School for four years. "You need to get involved and teach the sport, coach it."

Debbie Williams began coaching with Milan in 1975, taking over a the girls program at Bell that has won 17 titles on her watch. Together they created a dynasty.

"He taught me everything that I know," said Williams. "Mainly he shared his passion for gymnastic with me."

And so it was one of those strange circle of life moments this weekend. The state championship meet Milan created celebrated its 50th birthday, and the LD Bell girls won another title.

And hours later, Milan passed away.

"He was not only the father of high school gymnastics but the was also the father to all of us," said Williams.

Emil Milan, the father of Texas high school gymnastics, gone at 86, but not forgotten.