This past Saturday Haddonfield Memorial High School's football team completed a three-game playoff sweep of previously undefeated teams to capture its second Group 2 championship in four years. The architect of these upsets is a middle school math teacher whose enthusiasm for his job, his life and his students is so intense you sometimes wish there was a dim button when in his presence.
Frank DeLano wasn't born to be a high school football coach. That was a byproduct. He was born to be around young people – athletic ones, not so athletic ones, smart ones, not-so smart ones.
Neither of my sons played much football for Frank. And that's how I grew to really appreciate him. In a town that celebrates its sports championships with an immediate ride through town on its firetrucks DeLano provides a positive twist to Henry Jordan's old (and patently untrue) joke about Vince Lombardi.
``He treats us all the same,'' Jordan once said. ``Like Dogs''.
That's Haddonfield's sports nickname, its deviation ``Dawgs'' stitched on jackets, coats, hats worn by boys and girls, as well as men and women decades beyond their glory days. A visit to the local restaurant/pub here sometimes includes spirited discussions between those men – not so much the women – over whose championship team would beat whose championship team.
Frank's coaching acumen undoubtedly will contribute to such banter, but it's in the other corners of this small-town society where his greatest contributions can and should be measured. The kids that didn't play much, that didn't play more than a year or two or even at all, love the guy, and for a simple reason.
He loved them. And respected them.
Then. And now.
My older son played on the freshman team and on the JV team before he got hurt, and once got to play varsity during a blowout win.
He won't tell you that, but Frank will, bragging on him as if the kid was his own.
The younger one, smaller but tough as nails, was once pressed into quarterback duty when the regular freshman quarterback was bumped up to Junior Varsity and his backup suffered a concussion. That was seven years ago, before either of the state titles were won. Hundreds of kids have passed through the program since. But to this day, DeLano greets my son, now a young man, with a hug and a smile, and reminds him that he was the only quarterback who won that day.
This is not an isolated story. When the boys and their friends get together in our kitchen over the holiday season, DeLano stories abound. Some involve football. Most do not.
All carry that common theme of a man who made them feel valuable, at a time when they needed it most.
And when the fire engines blasted their horns through the town on Saturday, the sensation for them was not about civic pride, but rather pride and joy for an old friend having done well – again.