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End of an era

Rob Frank steps down as head coach of the Banks High School track and field program after 34 years and nine state champions
by: Chase Allgood Longtime Banks High School track coach Rob Frank, who guided the Braves to top-five finishes at the state meet in each of the last two years, retired last June after 34 years coaching both the track and cross country teams.

When Rob Frank became the head coach of the Banks High School track and field team, Jimmy Carter was the President of the United States, Mount St. Helens had yet to erupt, and about 15 years were still to pass before the oldest members of this year's Braves squad would be born.

After well more than three decades at the helm of the Banks program, Frank has decided it is time to step down. He resigned from the head coaching position last June.

'That's enough,' says Frank, 59, who is in his fourth year of retirement after a teaching career at Banks Elementary School. Banks High hired boys varsity soccer coach Tony Cicoria as Frank's successor.

Across the span of his coaching career, Frank had his share of success, coaching five individual Braves athletes and two relay teams to a total of nine state titles. Almost every school record in the books was broken during his tenure. And in some ways, he saved the best for last. Behind strong numbers in terms of both turnout and talent, the Banks girls have won the past three Cowapa League titles, while the boys won a league title of their own in 2010 and brought home the program's first state trophies by finishing third at the Class 4A state track meet in 2010 and second in 2011.

'That was a great year to go out with those seniors,' Frank says of last year's senior class, which played a major role in both trophy runs and the program's overall success.

Frank started his coaching career at Banks in 1977, as the junior high school track coach. The next year he became head coach at the high school, a position he held for the duration of his tenure except for a couple of years in the early 1990s, when he served as a jumps coach.

'I started teaching at Banks and loved it here. I liked the small-school atmosphere,' Frank says. 'Great place to raise my kids, and I liked the community. So I didn't plan on leaving teaching there, and so since I was teaching there and coaching also, it just seemed like I wasn't planning on leaving either one.'

When Frank first took his post, the track and field complex was a stark, decrepit forbear to the currently existing facility.

'It was not an oval,' Frank recalls of what was then a dirt track. 'It was more of a big triangle.'

That track was in poor enough shape that not long after Frank started coaching, he says, Banks stopped hosting meets. The facility also did not have runways for the jumpers and pole vaulters. So for a few years, Frank says, he drove the jumpers to Forest Grove High School, where they would work out in the school's jumping pits, and then they would do their running workouts after school at Banks.

With a lack of adequate facilities in those times, Frank says, participation numbers could run a little low. Over three-plus decades, he witnessed a number of ebbs and flows. Some years, only about 25 boys and girls came out for track. In other years, that number has reached over 70.

'Our participation in all sports kind of goes in waves, not only number-wise, but talent-wise,' Frank observes of Banks, the smallest 4A school in the state. 'We have these peaks where we - for our size of school - we get an inordinate number of good athletes, and an inordinate number of participants.

'And we go through some valleys where we're just in the opposite end in that spectrum where we have less participation and less talent overall.'

The first rubberized track surface was put down in 1983, and Frank says numbers swelled and the team experienced some success. By about 1990 though, the track had broken down to the degree that the school again could not host meets and participation numbers dipped. But the track was resurfaced in the mid-1990s, when it was expanded from seven to eight lanes, some of the equipment was upgraded and two more jumping pits were added. These days, Banks is back to hosting meets, including its own invitational.

During Frank's time at Banks, a number of standout athletes have passed through the program, though Frank was hard-pressed to put one pupil's name above all others.

Among the highlights, Jeff McMillian brought home Banks' first state title in 1983, in the shot put. Stacy Bennett posted seven top-five finishes at state in the early 1990s and won the low hurdles in 1990. Lindsey Schmidlin won back-to-back high jump championships in 2001 and 2002. In the past few years, Linus Norgren captured two 400-meter titles and anchored two winning relays at state, Matt Hidalgo won a pole vault title, and Jessica Markham broke numerous school records and landed on the state meet podium (top-eight finish) a total of 10 times between individual events and relays.

'It's hard to pinpoint, to say that this person was the best,' Frank acknowledges.

What Frank says does stand out the most to him is working with dedicated kids, 'be they great athletes or not great athletes. That attitude and that commitment is what you really look for.'

Even though he is no longer head coach, Frank has not become a stranger to the program. He has stayed on as an assistant, coaching the jumps once again. But he no longer has to perform the administrative duties that accompany the head coach position, and he gets to spend his time working with his kids, which he says is the most enjoyable part of being a coach.

'I went to track practice the last four or five years, and it was just a treat,' Frank says. 'I got up in the morning, and I thought, 'Oh, my God. I get to do this again today.'

'It was so much fun. The kids worked so hard, and they were so dedicated and great personalities, not just as athletes but as people, and so much fun to be around. It was amazing for me to do that.'

A lifetime of memories, created one day at a time.

'I thank my lucky stars every day that I got to do it at Banks, and I got to do it in a small community,' Frank notes. 'I got to teach and to coach, teach at different levels and coach with the high school. Who can ask for more than that?'



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