Baseball Icon’s Name Will Forever Be Part Of High School East

Toms River East and Toms River South players line the field prior to the ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  TOMS RIVER – There was plenty of emotion at the Toms River High School East baseball field.

  There were tears. There were hugs. There were high fives. There were handshakes.

  For 30 years, Bill Frank Jr. served as the Raiders’ head coach, guiding the team to numerous titles.

  On May 5, the venue was named the Bill Frank Field during a half-hour ceremony.

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  “The greatest thing about the name is that my grandkids, Brielle and Nico, and great grandkids (he awaits the latter) will know who I was,” Frank Jr., 69, who led the Raiders to more than 500 wins and numerous championships, told the media prior to the event. “That is important to me.”

Bill Frank Jr. and his wife, Loretta, a retired Toms River High School East attendance officer, unveil the sign honoring the baseball legend. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  Frank Jr. was honored in an on-field ceremony in front of an estimated 500 fans, including about 40 of his former players and assistant coaches and 30 family members. He spoke for about 10 minutes prior to the Raiders’ game against Toms River South. The Indians won 6-3.

  “I would like to say I can’t believe I am standing here today because this is my Field of Dreams,” he said. “This is a proud moment in my life. So many contributed to our success through their hard work and love of the game. I wanted the kids to learn and appreciate our style of baseball. Working hard and doing the little things always lead to wins. That philosophy applies to school, college and life. We had 2,000 to 3,000 fans for our games against South and (Toms River) North.

  “Standing in the third base coaching box, I saw little kids playing baseball near our dugout. I knew they would one day play for me. My career as a teacher and coach was gratifying. I encouraged the kids. I knew I was tough at times, but in my way I tried to prepare the kids for life. I am so happy to see my players grow into fine young men, fathers and successful business people. I related coaching to life’s lessons.

  “I want to thank Al Dietrich (then the superintendent of the Toms River Regional School District), who gave me the opportunity to be the head coach. I thank my wife of 44 years, Loretta, very much. My parents (Bill Sr. and Julia) are in heaven right now. After my games, my dad called me and lectured me.

  “I thank Ken Frank (Bill Jr.’s brother and South’s legendary coach) for his ongoing support and mentorship over the years. I love you, brother. Thank you for coming out tonight (they embraced and shared kind words prior to the game). Thank you very much.”

  In a show of respect to Frank Jr., East’s players stood along the third base line in front of their dugout. The Indians stood along the first base line in front of their dugout. 

  Frank Jr. clutched his grandchildren during the ceremony.

  “They are the love of my life,” he said.

Bill Frank Jr. enjoys his plaque with his wife, Loretta. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  East principal Pat Thomas spoke highly of Frank Jr. He hailed him as the Guest of Honor and introduced his family members.

  “We are all here to celebrate the life and accomplishments of legendary baseball coach Bill Frank,” said Thomas, who enjoyed a highly successful career as East’s girls soccer coach. “We proudly dedicate the field to Bill Frank. He taught all of his athletes to set individual and team goals. He encouraged his athletes to give 100 percent.

  “He was tough and hard. He taught his players to focus on the process rather than the outcome. He had an insatiable desire to help others succeed. When I came here in 1998, the team’s culture had been established. Games were community events. He made a difference in the world through the game. Coach, you are a proud reflection of a beautiful school.”

  The main sign dedicating the field to Frank Jr. is on the wall of the press box. It faces the bleachers. He and his wife pulled on a rope, unveiling the impressive sign to cheers. Another sign in his honor faces the field and is on the press box. It was visible prior to the ceremony.                    

  Ted Gillen, the district’s athletics director and a former East and Penn State University soccer standout, presented Frank Jr. with a plaque.

  “I would like to thank Toms River South, Ken Frank and Mitch Powitz (South’s lead assistant coach who played against Frank Jr.’s teams and under Ken Frank) for helping to celebrate this night with class,” he said.

  Frank Jr. said he enjoyed the ceremony.

  “It was awesome,” he told the media. “I appreciate everyone who came out and helped me do this whole thing. A lot of my ex-players were here, including one from ’85, my first year. It was great. To see them as grown men was real special. After they played behind our field as little kids, we helped them grow.”

  The media asked Loretta Frank to describe what it was like to be the wife of Frank Jr.

  “Gee, how could I describe that?” she asked with a smile. “He has always been a wonderful husband and father. The outcome of a game definitely affected his mood. He always questioned what he did wrong when he lost. He’d say, ‘What did I not do?’

The Frank family shares a celebration. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  “He is a fierce competitor to this day. This is the dream of a lifetime for him. He really, truly is thrilled and grateful.”

  Lou Smith, who played under Frank Jr., wore his Class of 1993 varsity jacket to the event. Smith, a three-year varsity performer, played third base and pitched.  

  “He’s a big part of who I am,” said Smith, who runs Lou’s Army, a multi-million dollar non-profit organization. “I would not miss this for the world. He was a tough individual. My dad was Bill Frank. He stepped up for me. I’ll tell you that much. He was with me all year long. It was good to see his infield and outfield drills. I would love to have been out there.

  “His practices were intense. Sad to say, but I don’t think it is today like it was back then. He was real tough, but pressure made diamonds, ya know. My family is better off that I was coached by him. I will tell you that much.”

  John Scran played under Frank Jr. during the 1994, 1995 and 1996 seasons. Formerly Central Regional’s coach, Scran serves as the athletics director and supervisor of physical education and health in the Central Regional School District. He attended the ceremony.

  “It was great to play under coach Frank,” Scran said. “He always had my back. There was great baseball in Toms River at that point. All three schools (including Toms River North) had the top 20 teams in the state. We all knew each other, but once we were on the diamond competing against each other the friendships were gone through those seven innings.”

  It was not easy to play for Frank Jr.

  “He was an intense coach who expected your absolute best each day,” Scran said. “He always pushed us to get the best out of ourselves as individuals and as a team. I loved playing Toms River East baseball because it was intense and the focus was on doing the little things. I have a lot of great memories on that field.

  “He was passionate about the game and about Toms River East baseball. He always pushed us to be the best we could be. Family was always number one with him.”

  Frank Jr. followed his players beyond the game.

Bill Frank Jr. speaks during the ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  “He truly cared about his players off the field as well,” Scran said. “I remember going to his house to watch the games on channel 21. I remember him saying, ‘I need 100 percent. You never know who is watching you. Always play the game like someone is watching you.’ “

  Scran said his elementary school teacher, Ted Schelmay, North’s retired coach, and Frank Jr. played large roles in his life.

  “They were major influences on my choosing my path to a career in education,” he said. “I wanted to teach and coach because of those two individuals. I just remember the environment that was created in Toms River for all of us who were fortunate to play in the 1990s and the 2000s. It was because of coach Frank, Kenny and Teddy. You felt you were on top of the world when you were playing under the lights against another Toms River school. Everyone in the community was at the game.

  “That was because of those three men and their dedication to the game of baseball in Toms River.”

  Paul Gerhauser, a former South second baseman, played on Frank Jr.’s freshman team when Frank Jr. coached under his brother.

  “Playing for him was great,” the 1981 South graduate said. “He motivated us, but he was tough and gentle at the same time. He got on you if you did not do things right or not hustle. After one of our games, we threw him in the shower.

  “On the bus to our game against Jackson Memorial, he said, ‘Jackson is horrible. They haven’t won a game all year.’ We won and he said, ‘You just handed them their first loss.’ That’s my favorite story about him. You always wanted to play hard for him.”                                                              

  Ken Frank took a 912-319-1 career record – he’s New Jersey’s wins leader – into the game. He’s in his 44th season as the Indian Chief. He recalled that South’s field was named the Ken Frank Baseball Stadium some 20 years ago. Frank coached Todd Frazier, a two-time major league All-Star and a former Rutgers University standout.   

  “My brother’s field is named the Ken Frank Baseball Stadium so we could not use the name Bill Frank Baseball Stadium,” Bill Frank Jr. said. “The school district chose the name for my field. Look at it this way: How many coaches as brothers have over 1,400 wins in the state or country? I don’t think you will ever again see that much longevity in terms of coaching.

  “These are different times now. Kids today have a lot of distractions. They have other sports like AAU (Amateur Athletic Union teams) and lacrosse. Kids have too much to do today. It’s not that easy to receive a college athletic scholarship anywhere.”

  Bill Frank Jr. said he learned of the honor “three weeks ago” from Thomas.

Bill Frank Jr. (left) enjoys a day at the ballpark with his dad, Bill Frank Sr. (second from left), mom, Julia, (third from left) and brother, Ken. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  “He told me what was going on,” Frank Jr. said. “Pat is all about the teachers and the kids. He’s a very nice all-around person. He called me on the phone while I was vacationing in Florida and told me. He said, ‘We are dedicating the field to you. You were here for 30 years and won all of those titles.’ He said the naming of the field was approved by the board of education.

  “I was pretty surprised by that. I said, ‘Wow.’ Why was I surprised? That’s a good question. I was surprised at the beginning. I thought about it and said, ‘I was there for 30 years. Our teams won a lot of titles. We got a lot of kids into college. And then I said, ‘Maybe I do deserve this honor.’ I guess I did not expect it at first, I guess.”

 Ken Frank said he knew his brother would receive the honor.

  “I always knew it would come about,” he said, “but I didn’t know when. I am very proud of him. He’s well deserving of it. It’s nice to have this honor when you are living.”

  Frank Jr. took his team’s losses hard.

  “When we lost,” he said, “I blamed myself. I would be home for about an hour saying, ‘What could I have done differently?’ When I won, I always felt they won.”

  Frank Jr. took over the team from Ed Sarluca, who retired after enjoying a highly successful tenure as the founder of the program. Frank Jr. guided the Raiders to a 520-279-2 record. He retired at the end of the 2014 season third among Shore Conference coaches in career wins.

  Frank Jr. led East to nine Shore Conference divisional titles, eight Ocean County Tournament crowns, four NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV championships and the 2001 Group IV state title. During one white hot stretch, the Raiders captured the Class South title from 2001-2006.

  Frank Jr. and Ken Frank are from Jersey City. It is believed they are the winningest brother combination in United States high school baseball history.

  “I really believe our teams were so successful because my brother and I brought city ball to the shore,” said Bill Frank Jr., who coached at South as an assistant under his brother before taking over at East. “Our kids felt they were expected to win something. We played a lot of small ball. We were fortunate enough to have had a lot of good athletes. We taught our players a lot of the basics – bunting, the hit and run, the suicide squeeze. I used to call it, ‘Billy Ball,’ like Billy Martin used to do it when he managed the Yankees. It worked for us.

  “When teams came to Toms River East, I felt we had a two-run lead before the game started because of the way our kids were. The other teams were intimidated by us.”

  Current East coach Keith Smicklo played for Frank Jr. Numerous assistant coaches worked under Bill Frank Jr. They included Walt Currie, Dan Dietrich, John Biscotti, Kevin Cohen, Ryan Cohen, Ed Kenny, Brian Corsi and Chris Wedding.

  Several of the assistant coaches were schooled by Frank Jr. as players.

  “We coached our kids to be aggressive,” Frank Jr. said. “We always felt he who hesitates is lost. I was fortunate to have had great players and great coaches. The coaches added a lot to the program. I let my coaches coach. For the most part, I listened to them. If they gave me an idea that I felt would work, we implemented it.”

  “Our styles are a lot alike – aggressive baseball, play the game the right way, hustle on and off the field, do the right thing, ” Ken Frank said. “I tell our kids, ‘Hustle because you never know who’s watching you.’ I always respected his teams. You knew you were in a battle when you played one of his teams. He always put a good product out there.”    

  Frank Jr. said he relished coaching third base.

  “It’s what I most enjoyed about coaching,” he said. “Being in that third-base box … whatever the game called for – a squeeze, a hit and run. I was at my best when I was coaching third base.”

  Turns out Frank Jr. was pretty good at field architecture.

 “He redesigned the field to make it easier for the players and the fans to enjoy the games,” Ken Frank said.

  Frank Jr. said his best clubs were the 1998 and 2001 teams.

  “The 1998 team was ranked first in the Shore Conference and hit the hell out of the ball,” he said. “The team also had great pitching. It was an all-around very good team. Its top players were Chris Romano and Mike McDonough.”

  The 2001 team won a program single-season record 29 games and suffered just three losses. It bested North Bergen 4-3 to win Group IV. Among the Raiders’ losses were to South and Christian Brothers Academy.

  “We had a great year,” Frank Jr. said. “We may have also lost to Holmdel on a fluke in a trap game as we did not throw our best pitcher. We had Colin Gaynor, Ryan Doherty and Mike Mongiardini.”

   Each team also had a winning attitude.

Bill Frank Jr. (center) enjoys his sons, Brad (left) and Bryan. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  “All of the Toms River High School East kids knew how to win,” Frank Jr. said. “As coaches, we never talked about winning. We told the kids, ‘Go out there and be aggressive. Do what ya gotta do and the winning will just happen.’ “

  Winning was not easy in Class A South in which each game was packed with the intensity of a World Series game.

  “Class A South was a very tough division,” Frank Jr. said. “We felt we could win the states (state tournament) because Class A South was so tough. When we played outside Class A South, I felt we could do better. I felt the states were a little bit easier as we got to the semifinals and the finals.”

  South was the Raiders’ fiercest rival. One day after East captured the Group IV state title, the Raiders fell to the Indians in the Ocean County Tournament at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.

  “We never figured out our record when we played each other’s teams,” Bill Frank Jr. said. “We were close to .500 against Kenny’s teams. He won. I won. I won. He won. Family is first. Baseball is second. Kenny and I are very close and baseball never tore our relationship apart.”

  “We played for our school to win,” Ken Frank said. “We played classic games. Both teams were very competitive. I never kept track of our record against Billy’s teams. His team would go on a run. My team would go on a run. When it was over, we were brothers again.”

  Bill Frank Jr. said he and his brother’s parents did not care for the East-South rivalry. Bill Frank Sr. passed away in 2011 at the age of 89. Mrs. Frank died in 2018 at the age of 98.

  “They did not like it too much,” he said. “They basically stayed neutral and did not say much. They let us do our own thing. It was only a game. After the game, it was over.”

  “I always told mom, ‘One of your sons is gonna win tonight,’ ” Ken Frank said. “I am very thankful that Billy is being honored. I wish mom and dad were there to see him be recognized.”

  One ex-player who attended the ceremony was pitcher Scott Wasienko, a 1985 graduate now the owner of a Philadelphia recording studio. He was the Raiders’ first pitcher to win a game against the Indians when Frank Jr. was at the helm. He registered the victory at Winding River Park in 1985 in a night clash.

  “There were about 2,000 people at that game,” Wasienko said.

  Wasienko, who drove from Haddon Heights, a Philadelphia suburb, to honor his coach, said he enjoyed playing for Frank Jr.

  “He meant a lot to me,” he said. “Each time I ran into him over the last 30 years, he always said, ‘Waz, you always had that first victory over my brother.’ Coach Frank was a force. He created attitude in our team. He was around 30 years old at that time and he energized who we were. He would yell, ‘Move. Move. Move.’ He said one time, ‘Gentlemen, if I stop calling your name, start worrying.’ That meant he gave up on you because you gave up on him.”

  Wasienko said Frank Jr. promoted an aggressive style of play among the Raiders.

  “He made sure we played like a North Jersey team, very city-like. They kicked our asses in scrimmages and he said, ‘We stink. Ya wanna know why we play those teams? They kick our asses. Because now when you play the teams from down here during the regular season you won’t be scared of anyone you play from this night forward. And now you won’t be scared.’ He showed us how to play the hard way and that made it easier when we played the teams from around here.”

  Bill Frank Jr. stopped short of naming his best player at East.

  “That is hard to do as we had so many great players,” he said. “Doherty. Colin Gaynor. Casey Gaynor, who graduated as the Shore Conference’s career wins leader. We had a lot of great players. I can’t pick one as baseball is such a team game.”

  Frank Jr. coached his sons, Brad and Bryan Frank. Brad Frank was the starting catcher on the 1998 Toms River East American Little League team which won the Little League World Series. Frazier was the team’s star player.

  “It was hard for me to coach my kids and it was hard for them, too,” Frank Jr. said. “I was their dad and coach and they did not want to disappoint me. They had peer pressure.”

Bill Frank Jr. enjoys a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort with one of his grandchildren. (Photo courtesy of the Frank family)

  Mike Gaynor, who managed East American to the title, attended the dedication. He’s the father of Colin and Casey Gaynor. The latter set the Shore Conference record for varsity career pitching wins with 34 before graduating in 2006. Gaynor noted his son lost four varsity career games.

  “This is long overdue,” Mike Gaynor said. “I told Casey of it and he said, ‘What took them so long?’ My kids loved playing for him. The more he yelled, the more they liked it. He paid a lot of attention to detail. He drove guys. If they didn’t get it right, he drove them some more. They were pretty much flawless on defense every year. He had a slew of talent.

  “When South and East played against each other, there were times when they were ranked one and two in the state. Coach Frank (Jr.) took his teams to play in Myrtle Beach, Charleston and Fort Pierce to play against teams in South Carolina and Florida.”                    

  Frank Jr. said his parents played large roles in the successes of he and his brother.

  “I miss my parents,” he said. “I miss dad critiquing me after my games. He coached me in Little League. He really knew baseball. I miss his phone calls. It was a little thing my dad and I had going. Ya know? Mom was always there for my brother and I. They made every game that they could. When dad coached me, mom was in the stands. Baseball was a part of our lives.

  “When East American won it in 1998, it was an awesome moment for me as our mom and dad were there (in Williamsport, Pa.) and got to see it. We loved it. Our whole family was there. It was awesome.”

  Frank Jr. coached under his brother at the freshman level from 1978-84. He was the first person hired by Ken Frank.

 “When I left South to go to East, Kenny gave me his blessing,” Frank Jr. said. “I always wanted to be a head coach. If you are an assistant, you want to be the head man.”

  Frank Jr. thanked Dietrich, Dan Dietrich’s father, for his support.

  “He gave me the opportunity to be a head coach,” Frank Jr. said. “I really appreciated that. He knew I was a good athlete and that I won the Region 19 batting title when I played for OCC (Ocean County College).”

  Dan Dietrich said Frank Jr. was strong on discipline.

  “He was old school,” Dietrich said. “He did it his way. Nobody tried to interfere with him. He said, ‘Winning is contagious. So is losing. Don’t get caught in that trap.’ He also said, ‘Don’t be happy. Keep playing.’ ”              

 Frank Jr. is a hall of famer’s hall of famer. He’s a member of the Shore Conference, OCC, New Jersey Coaches, Hudson County and the New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches halls of fame. He was a two-time first-team All-Region 19 player at OCC. 

  Now that he’s out of coaching and teaching, Frank Jr. has lots of time to enjoy life with his wife, Loretta. Two years after his retirement, he and his wife enjoyed a two-week cruise to the Mediterranean. They visited Italy, Croatia, Greece, Monaco, Spain and France. Frank taught physical education and driver’s education at East where his wife was an attendance officer. Frank Jr. is also involved with the Professional Driving School. 

  “I don’t miss coaching,” said Frank Jr., who recently enjoyed a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort with his family. “My wife and I decided that in 30 years we never did anything from March through June,” he said. “Plus, we pretty much won all that we could have won.”

  Ken Frank, whose Indians have won numerous titles, including Group state championships, said he kept an eye on his brother while they were growing up. They were teammates in the Jersey Shore Baseball League and in softball circuits.

 “I kept an eye on him and followed his playing career as much as I could,” Ken Frank said. “I drove from Toms River to watch him play high school and Little League ball. I am very proud of what he has accomplished. I always tried to be his big brother and lead him in the right direction. I always rooted for him – except for when he played us.”       

  Frank Jr. played baseball and football at Snyder High School where he graduated in 1970. He graduated in 1970 from Glassboro State College where he competed in baseball. He coached football at East under Ken Snyder.

  “Which aspects of coaching do I miss the most?” he asked, repeating a writer’s question. “The lifetime friendships. I still talk to a lot of my players. I cherish that.”

  “Growing up in Jersey City, I never felt we would have two fields named after us in Toms River,” Ken Frank said. “It’s a credit to the players, coaches and administrators who have supported us.”

  “This was a great turnout,” Thomas told the media after the ceremony. “So many of his former players and people who taught with him are here. He’s a big part of our community. He cultivated a winning mindset. He sustained success over a long period of time. He loves kids and he had the ability to get kids to be the best versions of themselves.

  “When kids came to play at East for him, there was a high level of expectation. When you play baseball at East, it’s a big deal. He led by example. He talked the talk and walked the walk.”                          

  The Indians haven’t had many head coaches. Ken Frank noted that Bob Hawthorne led the team for 20 years. Al Fantuzzi was at the helm for seven seasons. Ken Frank followed Fantuzzi. That’s three chiefs in 71 years.

  “When they named the field after me, they dropped it on me like it was a bomb,” Ken Frank said. “I told Ceil (his wife), ‘Am I alright?’ She said, ‘You’re fine.’ I have been out of teaching (and serving as an administrator) for 12-13 years and they still let me coach. As long as I am healthy, I will stay out there. I enjoy working with the kids. Coaching is an extension of the classroom. I tell my kids, ‘I want you on the honor roll.’ “