Despite several varsity letters in my boxes of high school memorabilia, I am not, by any measurable standards, an athlete. The letters were in academics and music; not the type of patch that one typically affixes to a jacket.
I hate running, and only do so in the face of imminent mortal peril (keen-eyed readers will remember an incident involving bees) or to chase down the ice cream man.
Of all classes in school, gym class was my least favorite.
None of that mattered to Coach Karl Frantz.
Coach Frantz died on January 7 at the age of 84, and I have since read testimonials from various colleagues and former student athletes about the impact he left on their lives.
Again, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an athlete, but, from the time I entered high school in the fall of 1992 to the time I graduated in June of 1996, Coach Frantz made an impact on my life, too.
What I remember most about Coach Frantz is that he cared about each of his students, and he wanted them to care, too: care about their bodies, care about their school work and care about the world in which they lived.
For instance: Coach Frantz was my drivers’ ed instructor. Besides teaching us the rules of the road and the various aspects of driving safety, each Friday he required us to bring in a current events article and summarize it for the rest of the class. It didn’t matter if it was a local or a global event, and it didn’t have to have anything to do with driving. Coach Frantz thought it was important that we kept abreast of the news. It didn’t matter what else we might learn in school, he figured, if we were ignorant of the world around us.
In gym class, he often pushed us past our own self-induced limits. He didn’t care if we were the best in class or the worst, if we made a basket or not, if we struck out every time or if it took us the entire period to run a mile. What mattered to Coach Frantz is that we tried to better ourselves, and, in doing so, saw the potential in ourselves that he saw from the beginning.
Like I said, I hated gym class, but even I was Gym Rat of the Week once because of him.
During my junior and senior year, I decided to swear off gym completely. An unfortunate batting accident and subsequent eye injury turned me off to baseball completely, and another unfortunate incident on the track which resulted in me emptying the contents of my stomach into a trash can as soon as I got off the field—a major factor in my decision never to run without the aforementioned bees or ice cream—prompted me to try to convince Coach Frantz to serve the rest of my days in the weight room, instead.
He was happy to oblige.
It was there that one really could see Coach Frantz shine. He taught us proper lifting techniques and worked out right alongside us, beaming with pride as our strength and endurance increased. He often set the tempo for our workouts by blasting oldies on the radio; to this day, every time I hear “Searchin’” by The Coasters or “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” by Jimmie Rodgers I think of him.
Because he believed in us so much, Coach Frantz was also a man that we—or, at least, I—did not, under any circumstances, want to disappoint.
To wit: one day, I forgot to bring my gym uniform to school. Not having a uniform meant not being able to participate, and Coach Frantz was not a fan of a lack of participation for so foolish a mistake.
As my mind scrambled to come up with a solution, I recalled a similar incident that happened to my dad when he was in high school under Coach Cardner, and figured if it worked for him, it might work for me. I searched all of the lockers in the locker room until I found a gym suit that somebody left. While my classmates laughed, I donned the dirty, smelly clothing that was far too small for me.
Coach Frantz soon came into the locker room and saw me standing there, looking like Baby Huey.
“Something happen to your gym suit, Berenato?” he asked, unknowingly quoting Coach Cardner verbatim.
I responded verbatim with my father’s response.
“My mother shrank it,” I said.
He saw right through me, but smiled and nodded approvingly.
I never forgot my gym suit again.
I haven’t seen Coach Frantz since I graduated high school, but barely a day goes by where I don’t think about that man in some capacity. The impact that he had on all of his students, not just the athletically inclined, is incalculable, and will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Thank you, Coach Frantz, for teaching us, for pushing us and for believing in us—and, in doing so, helping us believe in ourselves.
Thank you for taking an interest in us.
Joseph F. Berenato holds a Master’s in Writing from Rowan University and has been writing for The Hammonton Gazette—to varying degrees—since 1997. He is a trustee with the Historical Society of Hammonton and a caretaker at Oak Grove Cemetery. You can email him at email@example.com or find him on social media at @JFBerenato.