Coach Frank Defilippis
(The following article is reprinted from the Napa Valley Register)
Coach Defilippis, Track and Field Icon, Retires From NTC
“You prepared me for both the mental competition and the physical. You taught me that it’s not all about winning but to improve your records and always give it your best attempt. During our practices, I remember you telling us all how tough it is when the bigger meets come around, so with that, you trained us to be ready. I admire you coach, for all those years you invested in us and for all the knowledge you passed on the team, and to me.” – Marikka Mehserle, Napa Track Club member and winner of the heptathlon and triple jump in the young women’s division at the 2000 USA Track and Field Youth Athletics National Championships at Millikin University in Dacatur, Ill.
Some know him as “Coach,” others address him by “Mr. D,” and there are some who simply say “D.” Frank Defilippis doesn’t have a preference. He answers to all of the above.
Coaches, athletes, and parents all have a respect and admiration for Defilippis, the longtime coach and founder of the Napa Track Club, because of what he’s all about, what he stands for and for what he believes in. He’s a coach who brings knowledge, experience and expertise to the sport of track and field, which involves everything from hurdles to relays and field events. He’s a coach who cares and steers his athletes in the right direction. He’s a coach who prepares his team and develops a trust and bond with those who wear the Napa Track Club uniform. Above all, he’s a tireless worker who brings energy, enthusiasm and a commitment to do all that he can for his athletes each and every day.
Now, after 36 years as coach, organizer, administrator and caretaker of the Napa Track Club, Frank Defilippis is retiring so that he and his wife of 49 years, June, can travel during the spring and summer months, to see their own team of children and grandchildren. "It’s time", he said, "to step away from the daily practices, weekend meets, travel and all the responsibilities and duties that come with being in charge of a successful program." “I’ll miss the kids that I’ve been working with", Defilippis said. “I could relate to the kids. I could kid with. It makes a difference."
Defilippis, 74, has made a difference in the community, not just with the track club, but by coaching cross country and track at Justin-Siena High as well as starting the Catholic Youth Organization basketball program at St. Apollinaris Parish.
During a recent retirement dinner and fund-raising program for the track club, athletes and parents alike applauded and praised Defilippis for his years of work and dedication to track. “I can’t tell you how many students he’s helped to matriculate on to universities and colleges,” Justin principal Greg Schmitz said. “He’s established great, great relationships with the track and field coaches across the and for that, Frank, we clearly commend you. I can not believe the dedication this person has. He cares for them as theletes, but he also cares for them as person and truly as students.”
Fortunately for Justin-Siena, Defilippis will continue on as cross country coach. Today, his top runner, Joe Harrigan, competes in the CIF State Meet at Woodward Park in Fresno.
Defilippis doesn’t have a timetable for how much longer he’ll be with the Braves, saying only he’ll play it year by year. “It all depends too, on how I am,” he said. “I’m getting around better all the time. I think I still could do it.”
Defilippis has come back from four hip operations and other health problems to continue coaching the club, made up of youths ages 7 to 17. This past summer, Marikka Mehserle, Amanda Budge and Dawn McKay all won national youth titles at the biggest meet of the year. “Regardless of his ailments – and this is the thing that’s really inspiring to me – he always manages to be there for his kids,” says Schmitz. “I would see him in the hospital one day, four days later he’d be out on the track with his students.”
John Prudenti said he never thought he would amount to much in track, but that was before he tried the hurdles – an event that he became a CIF state champion in for Justin before going on to Princeton. “Things got better and better,” said Prudenti. “Every step I take reminds me of what you taught me when I was younger.”
Dan Healy, a longtime supporter of the NTC, said: “Frank has meant so much to do many people. I don’t know of anyone who has been a better teacher of our youth in the Napa Valley than Mr. D.”
Defilippis, who attended St. Mary’s Collge and played baseball for the Gaels, has certainly coached many of the Napa Valley’s best athletes including Nate Marum, Demian Luper, Chip Lilienthal, Jeff Holland, Mike Blair, Matt Blair, Steve Prince, Mike Peterson, Stephany Halcrow, Carolyn Beckius, Brian Nagy, Mike Savage, Rob Mace, Michelle Lopez, Alynda Franco, Lindsey Hoff, Molly Hoff, Phil Schill, Steve Frank, Dan Frank, Lisa Frank, Prudenti and Harringtan.
The club competes in local up through international meets from March through July. At Justin, he’s coached cross country teams and individuals to state meets and directed the Braves to Sac-Joaquin Sub-Section and Section titles in track. Back in July, he led 12 members of the NTC to the nationals. “He stuck with it, with our kids, 2-3 hours of the day, five days a week, six months a year” said Steve Blair whose sons Mike and Matt are standout athletes. “And then he went to track meets, 2-3 day track meets, all over California, weekend after weekend after weekend. He hopped around on those gimpy hips of his. I sat in the bleachers, he walked around and coached our children. None of us have that kind of commitment. None of us will ever give that to our community.”
Prince, who competed in the long jump and relays at UC Davis, got his start in track from Defilippis. “I feel a great part of my life has been touched by you, and because you were there it’s been that much greater,” he said. “Where in the world did you get all the time is what I want to know. By the time I’ve worked 8, 9, 10 hours, I’m done. I am done for the day. I want to sit on the couch. I don’t know how you did it, but thank you very much because it meant an awful lot to me. When you’re that young and that impressionable, you better have someone that has some pretty darn good values. And he does.”
Defilippis – a World War II veteran who was born and raised in Rutherford and graduated from St. Helena High – started the club with three athletes in 1964. It evolved to more than 30 members over the years. “It’s a good sport and everybody gets to participate,” Defilippis said over lunch the other day. “I just got into it and I really liked it. There were always some good athletes coming up.”
Bret Woods, an assistant for the club for six years, will take over as new head coach. Will Defilippis be able to stay away from the track this coming spring time? “I’ll always probably go look in and see how they’re doing,” he said.
Spoken like the dedicated and devoted coach that he is.