Q&A with Pierce Frauenheim

IMMACULATA HIGH SCHOOL

By Staff

Athletic Management, 17.6, October/November 2005, http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/am/am1706/qafrauenheim.htm

As far back as he can remember, Pierce Frauenheim wanted to be a football coach. As a player at Rutgers University, he started on both offense and defense and was a member of the schoolís undefeated 1961 team. In 1962, Frauenheim was hired as the first athletic director at Immaculata High School in Somerville, N.J. The next year, he was named assistant principal, and in 1966, he became Immaculataís first head football coach.

Under Frauenheim, the football program has won three state titles and 19 conference championships, compiling an overall record of 251-122-2 with a current streak of 26 consecutive winning seasons. A local legend, Frauenheim lost his larynx to cancer in the early 1970s, after which he taught himself to speak again by applying the lessons heíd learned on the gridiron.

He currently serves on the Eligibility Committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA), and has been inducted into the Immaculata High School Hall of Fame, the NJSIAA Hall of Fame, the New Jersey Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame, and the All-American Football Foundation High School Coaches Hall of Fame.

In this interview, Frauenheim talks about his philosophy as a coach and administrator, his recovery from cancer, and the excitement of coaching his 40th football season at Immaculata.

AM: How has the laryngectomy affected your work as a coach?

Frauenheim: It changed my whole life. I was 33 at the time, and even though I wasnít loud by any means, I could raise my voice. I donít have volume anymore, but Iím still able to get my student-athletesí attention when I need it.

How?

By learning esophageal speech, which is very difficult. It took a lot of practice, determination, persistence, and patienceóall things I had learned through sports. And that helped me turn a negative into a positive. I donít think thereís a need for any yelling or screaming on the football field. To respect your athletes is very important, and good coaching is about instructing players what to do, not criticizing them for something theyíve already done.

Did the experience affect your philosophy as an athletic director?

My dealings with people have changed. I relate to people a lot better than I did before, and Iíve thought a lot more about life itself. Life is more meaningful to me now, and that affects what I do as assistant principal, athletic director, and head football coach.

As assistant principal, you oversee disciplinary issues for the school. How do you describe your style of discipline?

Hopefully, Iím fair and just. I think love is the fundamental virtue, and when youíre dealing with kids, you have to be caring and concerned, stern but not rigid. I deal with each incident specifically as it comes up, because every student and every situation is different. I also feel strongly that when problems come up, you have to address them. You canít ignore them.

We have a code of conduct, but I like to put everything in a positive frame. The key word for me is respectórespect for each other, respect for yourself, respect for faculty and staff, respect for parents. Treat everyone with the respect they deserve.

Are parents today harder to deal with than when you started 40 years ago?

Todayís parents try to be more involved with their sonsí and daughtersí teams, and thereís always the possibility that theyíll interfere with the game. We lay out ground rules at the beginning of the year, emphasizing good sportsmanship in all aspects. One of the main purposes for high school sports is to teach sportsmanship, and unfortunately, parents are often more unsportsmanlike than any other group.

What can athletic directors do to change that?

We can make it clear that we will not tolerate unsportsmanlike behavior anywhere. I speak to those parents in a positive vein, letting them know weíre trying to teach sportsmanship and they need to set a good example for their kids.

Over the last 40 years, what are the largest changes youíve seen in high school athletics?

On the positive side, student-athletes have gotten stronger and faster. On the negative, tobacco, drugs, alcohol, and video games have sent some very good student-athletes down the wrong path.

What do you tell athletes about staying away from tobacco?

Whether Iím speaking at an assembly or to a small group of people, I tell them that I was really stupid. I smoked for about 10 years, and that was the cause of my cancer. Tobacco causes cancer. Thereís no doubt about that. And cancer kills.

About a quarter of the boys at Immaculata are in your football program. Do you ever have trouble getting enough people for the team?

No, not at all. Although the numbers have dropped a little due to sport specializationówhich I totally disagree with. I think high school athletes should compete in as many sports as they can. They only go through high school once, and they should be able to make the most of their time.

What are the most important issues for high school athletic departments to address right now?

Steroids. Some student-athletes want to take the easy way, and itís damaging their health. From pros to college and into the high school ranks, steroids is a big problem. Another problem is finding people who really want to coach and are willing to put in the time, care, and concern thatís necessary.

How do you retain good coaches?

By creating a team spirit and a sense of camaraderie on your staff. Iíve been coaching for a long time. Iím very proud to be a coach, and I think that spirit has to be developed in all assistant and head coaches on a staff. Youíre not going to make a lot of money as a coach and the hours are long, but itís a great profession.

What have you learned as a member of the NJSIAAís Eligibility Committee?

Itís extremely important for schools to check their student-athletes and make sure theyíre all eligible to play. Athletic directors need to know the rules and regulations, because it can really hurt your team to forfeit games because of ineligible players.

What should athletic directors specifically check for?

Look at athletesí birthdates. Look through school records to see when they started competing, because in some states they may only be allowed eight semesters of competition, and that clock might have started ticking for some of them in seventh or eighth grade. Look at credits earned the previous semester and make sure they meet state requirements.

There have been allegations about improper spending by the NJSIAA board on trips for spouses and vacation pay. Whatís your opinion?

Itís always good to re-evaluate a program, but I think the men who run the association have done absolutely nothing wrong. Theyíre outstanding people who have had to spend many nights away from their families, and I see nothing wrong with bringing their wives to a convention. I donít think theyíre at fault at all.

What have you learned by coaching your children?

I have seven children, including four boys who played football for me. Iíve tried to make it as natural as possible, and I never brought the game home with me. I was never negative with them in any way, and never spoke about other players in front of them.

Whatís kept you in the profession for so long?

I really love what Iím doing. Iím an early riser and get to school at 7 a.m., even during the summer. Iím excited to get started every day. I really donít think about longevity. To me, every football season feels like year one, and I get excited about all the people coming back and all the new people joining the program. The upcoming year is always the most important one.

Are you planning anything new for this season?

Iím just going to let the assistant coaches coach, as I always do. Theyíve been chosen by me, so they know my philosophy and what I expect.

How long are you going to keep coaching?

Right now, I love what Iím doing and Iíll continue as long as I feel this way. When itís time for me to stop, Iíll know.