Photo courtesy of former News-Sun Sports Editor Lucy Derkman Legendary Avon Park High School football coach Joe Franza, who passed away in 2005, is being inducted Saturday in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
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published: Friday, January 11, 2013
Franza's induction is Saturday
By DAN HOEHNE
Avon Park coaching legend Joe Franza will take his place among the greats in the annals of Florida athletics tomorrow as he will be inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort.
Franza will be among seven that were nominated by their peers, reviewed by the FACA Awards Committee and voted on by the FACA Board of Directors.
The seven inductees are George Coffey, Kissimmee-Osceola, Softball; David Frantz, Lakewood Ranch, Golf; Phil Hayford, St. Pete-Shorecrest Prep/Canterbury School, Football; Ed McPadden, Marion County Schools, Baseball/AD; Marcia Pinder, Ft. Lauderdale-Dillard, Basketball; John Wilkinson, Cocoa, Football; and Joe Franza, Avon Park, Football.
Franza and Hayford are being honored posthumously.
To be eligible for induction, a minimum of 20 years of service in the coaching profession, in Florida, and/or participation in FACA is required.
Criteria for selection are based on coaching record, championships won, head coaching tenure, FACA service and awards.
Franza's induction came after an exhaustive, three-year effort by former Red Devil quarterback Reggie Butler.
"I played for him from 1956-58, and my two brothers also played for him," Butler said in a phone interview Thursday. "Not only was he a great football coach, he was a leader of young men.
"He wasn't one to scream and holler, but he was a Marine Corps guy, who was tough and no-nonsense. He was worshiped by all of us that played for him," he continued. "A few years ago we had a party at his ranch, and there were hundreds, if not more than a thousand people who showed up. It was heartwarming to see all those people who had played for him over the years."
According to his biography on the Avon Park Champions Club webpage, Joe Franza was born on Dec. 29, 1924 in Murphysboro, Ill.
At Murphysboro High School he was, ironically enough, a Red Devil, and a multi-sport star, lettering in football and baseball, as well as a state champion pole vaulter.
He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1942, serving in the South Pacific as a communications specialist until the end of the World War II.
He returned to marry his high school sweetheart and earned an athletic scholarship first at the nearby University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale, and then Erskine College, where he graduated in 1949.
He was inducted into the Erskine College Hall of Fame in 1985 for his prowess in basketball, track and football during the two years he was there.
Franza then came down to Florida and began what would be a distinguished career at Avon Park High School which spanned 31 years.
He coached from 1949 until 1972, during which time the Red Devil football team had 138 wins, 68 loses and 10 ties.
During this time they reached nine title games, earned five Ridge Conference titles, three district titles and one regional title.
He was named Coach of the Year in 1962.
During his tenure, teams were known for their physicality and toughness.
Franza also concentrated a great deal of effort on fielding as many players as possible during a game.
Even the most unlikely athlete found his way into a game if he was willing to work hard and follow instructions.
He also served as the athletic director and worked in the community with an athletic association for fund raising.
Due to personal illness in 1972, he retired from coaching but continued on as athletic director and served as a Dean of Students until 1980.
In 1984, Franza was elected to his first of two terms on the Highlands County School Board, serving as chairman for one of those years.
One of his proudest moments was the dedication of the Avon Park High School stadium to him.
Throughout his life he was an active man and an avid outdoorsman, during retirement he took up golf, the guitar and wood crafting.
He was a Past Worshipful Master of the Masonic Lodge, a Rotarian, and a member of Union Congregational Church.
He was a man of honor, a dedicated husband, father, grandfather, friend and patriot.
One great innovation Franza began was the Avon Park Circus, which ran from 1951-60.
"That really evolved from the short football season," Butler said. "There was a lot of time until baseball season, which a lot of the guys also played, but this gave us a chance to stay in shape.
"We were also a bunch of kids from blue collar homes, and the circus really opened our eyes to other things, opened our minds," he continued. "So much of what he did, his leadership, becoming a family and opening us up to new things, he really helped set us on a path to greatness."
The Florida Athletic Coaches Association is comprised of more than 5,000 member coaches, both high school and college, in the state of Florida.
The FACA sponsors 10 High School All-Star Classics in nine sports, conducts four coaching clinics each year and recognizes coaches for the exemplary efforts supporting the youth of this state.
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