Frank Czapla – Nice Guys Finish First
Back in 1946, Leo Durocher, then the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, said, “Nice guys finish last.” In 1946, Frank Czapla was only eleven years old and Leo “The Lip” had not experienced Frank when he made that fallacious statement. Not only is it not true that nice guys finish last, but nice guys, like Frank Czapla, are winners well before the game even starts. Frank was unquestionably one of the nicest guys that ever attended McKinley High School and one of its greatest athletes.
Born in St. Louis on April 2, 1935, Frank was one of nine children of a Polish family. His father worked at Granite City Steel and they lived on 9th & Sidney. Frank was fluent in Polish as this was the primary language of their home. Frank attended a Polish Catholic school, Our Lady of Czestochowa, and played soccer for St. Agatha Catholic church.

When Frank started McKinley in the fall of 1950, Coach Blanke saw this already huge prospect walking down the hall one day. Coach asked Frank if he planned to come out for football. Frank said, “I’ve never played football, but I have played soccer.” Coach Blanke said, “Be in the gym at 3 o'clock for our first football meeting.” Frank attended that meeting and later commented that Coach Blanke greatly shaped his future life with that encounter. Frank’s eyes would tear up when talking about Coach Blanke. They were to remain lifelong friends.

Ken Swehla recalls when Frank first came out for football. "The first day he was easy to move at the line of scrimmage, since he didn’t know what was going on. By the second day, he was as good as anyone on the line and by the third day, he was better than anyone on the line." Frank went on to become a high school All-American.

Frank (No. 24) also played basketball for McKinley. After a McKinley – Roosevelt basketball game, John Bischof, one of Frank's teammates, agreed to drive a couple of Roosevelt cheerleaders home. Jan Stratmann, one of the cheerleaders, made some negative comments about the big guy with the plastic nose guard that made their star foul out of the game. John pointed to Frank in the back seat of the car and said, “This is that big guy with the nose guard.” They then drove to an A & W Root Beer stand, and shortly thereafter, Frank and Jan began dating.
Jim Patterson remembers Frank as a gifted athlete with an outstanding work ethic. "In 1952, at the DeAndreis game, he made the greatest block that I have ever seen – even to this day. It was an end run and three defenders were closing in on the ball carrier. Frank threw a cross-body block that literally flattened all three defenders allowing a nice gain for us. I have watched a lot of football in my life, but that block was special. I can still hear Coach Blanke praising that block."
Harold Alcorn remembers Frank as a gentle giant with the heart of a small child, with love and kindness for everyone. "Frank had never played basketball before coming to McKinley, but Coach Buschman needed a tall and physical person to rebound and set offensive blocks. Frank did this extremely well. My own achievements and success would never have been possible without Frank Czapla. Frank allowed me to get a clean look and shot at the basket. He never complained nor objected to his assignment. Each person who has met Frank Czapla has been blessed by this gentle giant. Memories of Frank will last forever."
During the recent McKinley Centennial Celebration, Frank was honored as an Accomplished Goldbug. The word “accomplished” does not begin to describe Frank Czapla. He was president of his 1954 graduating class. His athletic accomplishments place Frank amongst the superstars of McKinley athletics.

Lettered in Football – 4 years
Lettered in Basketball – 3 years
Lettered in Baseball – 4 years
All District Football, first team 1953
Public High League Football, first team 1953
Missouri All State High School Football, first team 1953
National High School All American Team
Missouri All State High School Football, first team 1954
Outstanding High School Lineman 1954

Frank Windegger was the quarterback of the 1952 championship football team where he and Frank were teammates. Windegger said, "Frank was the ultimate high school athlete; big, fast, great blocker and had terrific hands. Combine all that with his great intelligence and being a team player puts him at the top of any student-athlete that ever competed at McKinley. He was also a very good at baseball and basketball and contributed greatly to our basketball championship."
After graduating from McKinley, Frank accepted a football scholarship to Missouri where he was the starting tackle on the football team coached by Don Farout. After three years at Missouri, Frank transferred to Southeast Missouri State at Cape Girardeau, where Jan was attending. Frank helped Cape win the MIAA conference football championship in 1958. When he graduated from Cape, Frank was drafted in the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. He stayed on at Cape as assistant football coach under Coach Knox where they repeated as the MIAA conference football champions.

Frank and Jan got married in 1959 when Jan graduated from Cape and they both went to work for Perryville High School. During the summers, they attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford where they both earned their Master’s Degrees. They remained in Perryville for five years and in 1964, they moved back to St. Louis where Frank began coaching at Kirkwood High School.

Frank coached football and soccer at Kirkwood for 33 years where he helped athletes learn sportsmanship, competitiveness and lessons that apply to lifemuch like his mentor, Coach Blanke. Fred Bueler, who played football for Frank at Kirkwood, said, “He got the best out of everyone and encouraged us to be the best that we could possibly be. He truly impacted my life. My personal success in life has been attributed primarily to determination, which I learned from Coach Czapla.” In 1997, Frank was voted, by teachers and students, "Teacher of the Year" at Kirkwood.

Rick Toman, who also played for Frank, said, “After playing football my sophomore year, I went out for the soccer team just to play for Coach again. I had never played soccer before, but continued to play for Coach all three years. Coach made a big difference to me in my life. He was a straight shooter, hard-nosed type guy who cared for his kids. He instilled passion in all of us and really made a difference to all of us.”

Frank even impressed coaches that competed against him. Chris Werstein, who coached for Mehlville High School, said, "Not only was Frank an outstanding coach and role model, but he was an even better person. I'm sure that there are countless young men who will never forget Coach Czapla. Frank was a big man, but inside he had an even bigger heart. He will never be forgotten."

For seventeen years, Frank worked part-time for the St. Louis Cardinal's football team. He checked all the equipment, from chin straps to shoulder pads before each game. He used to warm up Jim Hart by tossing the football with him. On game days, he worked as the down marker with the first and ten crew. Frank loved working with the Cardinals and found it very meaningful.

Frank and Jan had two children; Marc and Jill, both of whom have advanced college degrees. Frank’s hobbies included softball, volleyball, horseshoes and he loved to polka. Frank had a heart problem. He gave it all away. He gave so much of his heart to family, to friends, to his students – and even to strangers – that there was little left. While Frank left us way too soon, his was a life well lived. He used his time. He will be missed.