This is a story about Fox Chapel Area High School art teacher Ron Frank, who, 38 years ago, became a wrestling coach in the district. At that time, he never could have imagined that on February 15, 2017, he’d earn his 400th career victory and become one of the best–ever wrestling coaches.
Coach Frank is the first to admit he wasn’t an expert by any stretch of the imagination when he first started out. Back in those days, if a teacher had any kind of athletic background, they were pegged for coaching positions, even if they didn’t have much experience playing the sport they were asked to lead. Coach Frank was mainly a football player at his alma mater, Central Catholic High School, and only started wrestling in his senior year. But he was a quick learner, an eager student, and possessed a work ethic that has served him well throughout life.
Now, as one of the most respected coaches in the sport, Coach Frank just added to his already long list of credentials with his 400th win, which also distinguishes him as third among the WPIAL’s all-time winning wrestling coaches. It’s an achievement that eclipses those of some of his heroes when he first began coaching – the legendary Gus DeAusustino from North Allegheny High School, Bob Siar Sr. from Shaler High School, and Ken Lockey from Seneca Valley.
“They were great people that took the time to help a young coach,” says Coach Frank. “They taught me, as did two of my own teachers and coaches, Larry Mannion, who is the reason why I am a coach, and Fred DeGroot, who influenced me to be an art teacher, to never stop chasing your goals and that hard work can overcome your shortcomings, of which I have many. I was never the smartest, fastest, or strongest, so inheriting my mother’s work ethic was essential to any accomplishment.”
Regardless of where Coach Frank thinks he falls short, Fox Chapel Area School District’s director of athletics sees it differently.
“In my 12-year tenure at Fox Chapel Area, it’s been my pleasure to watch Coach Frank and how he interacts with his athletes and students,” says Michael O’Brien. “It’s amazing how many kids come back in their later years to still be part of the program. I believe that is a true testament to the impact he’s had upon his students. He is certainly deserving of his 400 career victories, and I couldn’t be more proud of him and our wrestling program.”
Paying It Forward
Just as those coaches took him under their wing years ago, Coach Frank has always tried to pay forward the kindness he was shown. Although he might have a gruff exterior and an old-school approach to life, he has a heart of gold when it comes to his family, his wrestlers and their families, both past and present, and the many students who cite his jewelry- making class as their most favorite.
“Some people might find it hard to believe, but I get as much pleasure in seeing a great jewelry project each morning as I do a wrestling win at night,” says the father of three grown boys, all of whom wrestled for him when they were young boys and throughout high school.”
A true teacher-at-heart, Coach Frank is happy about his 400th win, but people who know him will probably groan when, with his trademark humility, he says, “Four hundred is just a number. It was great that our four seniors all got their hands raised in victory last night.”
That focus and concern about his wrestlers extends well beyond the mat and is one reason why so many former wrestlers and even their parents come out each year on what usually turns out to be a snow-laden, frigid January weekend to volunteer for the Allegheny County Wrestling Tournament, which he and assistant coach Bob Siar Jr. founded in 2002. It remains the largest event of its kind in the area and draws an average of 400 wrestlers from 36 high schools.
“Parents and alumni have stayed in touch because of the important role that high school sports played in their families,” says Coach Frank, who places great importance on relationships and how successful his wrestlers and students become in life. “I am the luckiest person I know. We have a wrestling staff that works as a team and we make decisions together to benefit the students.”
Coach Frank’s staff has been with him for many years and includes Bob Siar,Jr. a PIAA champion; his son, Tim Frank, a WPIAL champion; Joe Bursick, a coach with 200 wins; and another son, Michael Frank, who earned his way to the NCAA Championships.
“They not only are great coaches, they are wonderful professional teachers,” says Coach Frank.
He continues: “None of us measure our success in match victories, but in how successful the men and women in our program are 20 years after graduation. We have former students that now have families of their own and are carpenters, police officers, engineers, teachers, doctors, stockbrokers, and business owners. Sports is part of the educational experience and mission of the school district, and we are proud that so many of them have earned their degrees from colleges ranging from Community College of Allegheny County to Harvard and Princeton, and everything in between.”
Myriad Honors with More in Store
Coach Frank takes infinite pleasure deflecting from his own achievements, but they are numerous and shouldn’t be overlooked. He is an inductee of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Wrestling Hall of Fame, as well as the national and PIAA wrestling halls of fame, yet ironically, he has yet to be inducted into the Fox Chapel Area Hall of Fame. That’s because only retired coaches are eligible for consideration.
With no signs of slowing down, and placing his 400th victory celebration behind him, Coach Frank now is singularly focused on what’s ahead for the team. It’s time for the individual section and WPIAL championships and then, hopefully, the PIAA championships. As he puts it, “It’s really is all about the kids.”