The list of “lasts” will begin multiplying exponentially for Joe Franks in the coming weeks.
- Last time leading Grimsley High School’s golf teams.
- Last time delivering social studies lessons to students.
- Last time taking part in the Grimsley commencement exercises that an 18-year-old Joe Franks experienced 35 years ago.
“If somebody had told me in 1978 that five years from now you’re going to come back, become a member of this faculty and be here 30 years, I’d have told them, ‘You’re crazy,’” Franks said. “But it has been wonderful. I’m so blessed. I’ve had great kids, coaching golf has been wonderful – what a great experience…”
Franks then paused, the emotion apparent on his face, in his eyes, as he talked about his goodbyes with some three months still remaining in a 30-year education career. People ask him if he’s counting down the days like many who are slated for retirement.
“No,” he said firmly. “You don’t think about it. When I get reflective, I get emotional, so it’s good to stay busy.”
There is no need to change a formula that has worked so well for so many years. Franks will continue teaching U.S. History and Sociology this semester, wrapping up lessons he estimated have reached some 4,500 students at one of Greensboro’s most highly-regarded schools.
He will continue to coach the Whirlies’ boys’ golf team through its Metro Conference schedule with sights set on success in the 4-A regional and state tournaments. Since Franks took over the program in 1997, Grimsley’s boys have won five regionals, appeared in nine state tournaments and were the state runners-up in 2003. He enjoyed similar success with the girls program, which he started coaching in 2003: three regional titles, seven state championship trips and a second-place finish in 2008.
The golf jobs were something Franks always wanted.
“I love playing golf. I love the game. I love what it teaches you,” Franks said. “I love what it teaches kids and I wanted to share that.”
The lesson Franks most enjoys sharing with his players is how golf is built upon the ideals of sportsmanship and integrity. Rather than ponder the boys’ five-shot loss to Green Hope in 2003 or the four-shot defeat against Athens Drive for the girls in 2008, Franks speaks of the enjoyment of seeing competitors hit clutch shots.
“Golf is the kind of game where things balance out. You have some great holes, you have some bad holes,” Franks said. “You don’t pull against kids to miss shots. Most golf coaches appreciate and applaud great effort. That’s what separates this game from the others.”
Franks said the hardest part about being a golf coach involves making cuts, because “kids don’t come out if they don’t want to play.” The boys’ and girls’ squads at Grimsley always have carried 12 players – a number that came after cuts for the boys, but a huge roster for most girls’ teams.
During his years of coaching, Franks noted two major changes in the game. The first has been the explosion of girls golf in the state. To keep the momentum going for girls programs, Franks said the key is to keep practices fun and let them develop their talent naturally.
He has seen girls come in as raw beginners as freshmen and play their way into the state tournament by the time their senior year rolls around, but is not sure how many more years that can happen as players keep getting better at younger ages.
As for the other major change in high school golf? That is a topic that brings another emotion into play for Franks.
Before 2005, golf coaches were not allowed to talk to their players on the course. Franks and his colleagues in the Metro Conference pushed hard for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association to change that.
“When I started coaching, we were chaperones,” Franks said, leaning forward with great animation at the thought. “People would say, ‘Golf is an individual sport, these kids need to make their own decisions.’ ”
Franks admitted he is not a swing coach and praised the help of volunteers in the community with improving his players from a technical standpoint. One of those current helpers – Tim Samelak of Precision Golf School – will inherit the Whirlies’ programs next year.
But Franks did call himself a strong motivator and someone who is good with course management, and being able to share that kind of information with golfers should have been no different from a basketball coach or track coach discussing strategy with his or her players.
With a push from the N.C. Coaches Association and others in the golf industry from across the country, the state association granted Franks his wish in 2005.
“We’re coaches now, not chaperones,” he said. “That changed high school golf in North Carolina.”
As Franks looked back at his career in education, he admitted to being in the right place at the right time for many of the defining moments in his life. He served as a student-trainer at Grimsley prior to graduating in 1978 and changed majors twice at Clemson before landing on secondary education and history.
Although Franks initially had no plans to teach and certainly no plans to return to Grimsley, fate intervened.
“I was all prepared to be a teacher and athletic trainer at Seneca High School, 10 miles from Clemson. I had all but signed the contract,” Franks said of his job prospects in 1983. “The job at Grimsley opened up – social studies teacher and trainer – and boom, there it was. You look back when certain things happen, and it’s all very clear that it was something that was meant to happen. I believe in that.”
Franks served as the sports medicine director at Grimsley until 1997. Despite returning to his alma mater as a teacher and working alongside many in the faculty who had taught him a few years earlier, Franks said the transition proved easy. And now, some of his former students are becoming teachers as well.
“That’s cool,” Franks said. “It’s a wonderful profession.”
Franks keeps up with a huge number of past students and players on Facebook. Running into former students in Greensboro is a near-daily occurrence.
That will change a bit with his retirement. Franks and his wife of 17 years, Tiffany, have been living in Danville, Va., for the past five years after Tiffany became president of Averett University.
“There are an awful lot of things I’m not able to do as far as travel with her when she represents the university,” Franks said. “I feel I need to be at those things.”
In other words, Franks should be able to stay busy despite retiring at 53. He will leave behind plenty of knowledge in a book co-authored with Herb Appenzeller tentatively titled “Unintended Consequences: Lessons Learned, An Educational Journey,” due out in May from Carolina Academic Press. It’s a safe bet Franks will continue to be a mentor to young people for years to come.