Phil Anastasia: Frappolli to be first in 400 club

Florence coach Joe Frappolli, celebrating his 231st win in 2007, will coach his 400th game Friday night.He will become the first South Jersey football coach to reach that mark.
Florence coach Joe Frappolli, celebrating his 231st win in 2007, will coach his 400th game Friday night.He will become the first South Jersey football coach to reach that mark. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 04, 2013

Joe Frappolli is a Civil War buff. He is a voracious reader. He is a student of great battles and political intrigue, of foreign policy and diplomatic drama.

He knows that some moments and some men are writ large - events that changed the course of history, characters whose influence has stood the test of time.

At a small school in a small town, Frappolli has made South Jersey sports history in a small way - slowly, steadily, one practice after another, one game after another, one season after another.

"It just means I've been around a long time," Frappolli said of the significance of Saturday's game between his Florence High School football team and Robbinsville.

It will be the 400th game of Frappolli's 40-year career. He will become the first coach in South Jersey football history to lead his team into that many games and just the sixth coach to do so in state history.

It makes Frappolli one of the towering figures of the sport, although he sneers at such sentiment and swears he had no idea he was approaching such a milestone before the start of this season.

"I taught social studies. I'm not a math guy," Frappolli said with a laugh before another practice.

But it's not just the numbers that mark the magnitude of Frappolli's career. It's his influence on generations of students - the stern guidance and tough love that sent countless youngsters on the straight path to better lives.

Frappolli has won more games than anybody who ever walked the football sideline in South Jersey. But his commitment to community service is as impressive as his 277-117-5 record: the annual free youth football clinics, the food drives spearheaded by his players and cheerleaders around Thanksgiving, the winter-coat and gift drives fueled by his family around the holidays.

"This is a platform," Frappolli said of coaching. "I'm convinced I was put on this earth to help people."

He has coached the Flashes since 1974. He held his first practice about two weeks after Richard Nixon resigned as president. People were watching The Waltons and listening to "The Night Chicago Died" by Paper Lace.

"First thing we needed to do was change the culture," Frappolli said. "We needed to get tougher."

The world has changed, and high school sports have changed, too. But Frappolli's teams have been known for four decades for their toughness, a trait tied both to the nature of the tight-knit little town on the bend in the Delaware River and the coach who once stood on the sidelines in bell bottoms and a thick white belt.

Frappolli misses "The Pit" - Florence's famous old downtown football field - and Saturday afternoon games and some of the rivalries that have disappeared with all the conference and divisional realignments.

He loves sitting with old coaches and hearing "stories," tales from the old days of big games and funny moments at practices, of road trips and scouting sessions and halftime speeches.

He knows there aren't many coaches still around to tell those stories. He and Kingsway's Tony Barchuk, who took over in 1979, are the last two South Jersey coaches who began their careers in the 1970s, and just a handful are left who started in the 1980s.

Frappolli remembers the big wins and the tough losses, the six sectional titles and the 43-game winning streak, the blocks and tackles and touchdowns.

But he insists that's not what he thinks about when he looks back at the long sweep of his career.

"One of my most prized possessions is a sketching that was given to me by a former student," Frappolli said. "We're at 'The Pit' and it says, 'Trophies Gather Dust, Memories Last Forever.'

"That's really it for me. It's all about the relationships."

One season at a time. One game at a time. One day at a time.

One moment at a time.

That's how a history major who decided to stay home and teach social studies and coach football at a small school in a small town became one of the giants of the game.


Phil Anastasia: Most Football Games Coached

Here's a list of the men who have coached the most football games in South Jersey history.

Coach   School   W-L-T   Gms.   

*Joe Frappolli   Florence   277-117-5   399   

Dan Pidcock   Clearview   164-168-7   339   

*Tony Barchuk   Kingsway   188-143-5   336   

*Paul Sacco   St. Joseph   268-56-5   329   

John Oberg   Delsea   230-67-16   313   

Clint Ware   Woodstown   165-136-11   312   

*Tim Gushue   Shawnee   203-101-6   310   

* - still active

- Phil Anastasia


panastasia@phillynews.com

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