Written by Barbara Grow
In a small town, tucked away in the Sierra Foothills, a swim coach, physics and chemistry teacher left a lasting impact on the lives of hundreds of students.
Coach Frank Koop took a scrawny, sick little freshman and made a racer out of him, in the water and in the classroom. That’s the kind of man he was and just one of many lives in which “Koop,” as he was known, played a significant role. And that scrawny little kid was my son.
When my son graduated I gave “Koop” a copy of the photo that a Fresno Bee reporter had given me when they did a piece on him in 2001, framed it and cut up and placed 1/2 of my son’s handicap placard on the back of the plaque.
They may not have been the most winning team in valley swimming, but there are hundreds of former students and Sierra High School swimmers mourning the loss of a coach and teacher who taught them that winning is working together as team, learning, and above all, the importance of integrity and education.
There is no way to describe what it means for a child to go from considering himself very limited, to thinking of himself as an athlete. That is something that can never be taken away from him, even as an adult. He improved gradually and competed on the high school team for four years and made Valley Finals. Not the Olympics, but if you could have watched him these past weeks as he swam each lap of the pool with his countrymen, it is plain that his athletes heart still beats strong.
How did his coach know what to teach him and how to teach him? I think that has to do with a Coach’s heart. That was the kind of man Koop was, at poolside and in the classroom as he mentored hundreds to do their best and reach for their potential. He was a soft spoken and quiet leader. He taught his teams and students what to do and then, simply, let them do it. Our family called him the swimming whisperer.
Koop retired in 2002 from Sierra High School, and I don’t think my son’s story was an isolated incident. My son’s personal joureny is not really the story. The difference that this man made in so many lives in such a small place, is the story! Very fitting for my son that his coach passed during the Olympic swimming events. His upcoming memorial service will be a great opportunity to see what high school sports and a caring teaching can mean to so many young people.
Josh Koop would like everyone who knew and loved his father to attend the service at 10:00, Friday, August 10, at the Stephens and Bean Funeral Chapel, 202 N. Teilman, Fresno. Following the service there will be a graveside burial at the Reedley Cemetery at 11:30.
After the burial, Josh is inviting everyone who is able to attend a reception/open house at his dad’s house at 2:00. The address is 524 E. Shelldrake Circle, Fresno. Please come and share stories about Frank.