Toms River South’s walking, talking, living legend Kenny Frank became New Jersey’s first 900-game winner when his Indians knocked off Shore Conference rival Point Pleasant Beach, 12-2, on Saturday in front of a cavalcade of former players, coaches and current and longtime fans of the program.
The victory improved 74 year-old coach Frank’s 43-year career record to 900-312-3, a stunning and truly amazing .741 winning percentage over 1,215 games-played in what is, year-in and year-out, among the Garden State’s most ruggedly competitive baseball conferences.
Frank and the Indians then went out on Monday and Tuesday and picked up their third and fourth straight victories and Nos. 901 and 902 in their coach’s career. That means just 98 to go for 1,000 for Frank. Sorry, coach, as fans we are never satisfied. Frank, conversely, did tell NJ.com’s Joe Zedalis after No. 900 on a sultry Shore afternoon that, “I’m tired. The heat took it out of me today.”
Whether or not Frank continues on his winning binge and seeks out another big milestone isn’t as important as the tradition he gave birth to at Toms River South and the impact the Jersey City native has had on Jersey Shore baseball in general.
It’s already been 12 years since Frank retired from the Toms River South school district and his four daughters have since expanded the family with 11 grandchildren. But Kenny is still walking young men through the intricate paces of what it takes to be a quality ball player with a team-first approach. It’s always been about “the team” to Kenny Frank. And family. Toms River South baseball teams have always operated as a finely-tuned machine and his best teams certainly appeared to be moving as one on the diamond.
“I’m a big advocate of family,” said Frank. “I’ve always wanted us to be a family here and, most importantly, for my players to become role models when they left. I’ve always tried to ingrain in our kids that it’s family first, then you, then baseball. When they are finished here I want them to be young men, not young boys.”
Considering the couple dozen former players in attendance for win No. 900, it is clear coach Frank’s work to create a family atmosphere in his program has worked.
Frank coached his first game at Toms River South in 1978, building a program from the ground up as the community expanded. Toms River soon became synonymous with baseball as two high schools became three and each experienced tremendous success. Indeed, Toms River quickly became New Jersey’s baseball headquarters. And Kenny Frank was at the forefront of that.
Kenny’s younger brother, Bill Frank, coached 30 years at the newest school, Toms River East, where he registered a 520-279-2 career mark and his 2001 team won the NJSIAA Group 4 championship. Brother Bill’s teams also won four sectional titles and eight Ocean County Tournament crowns. Ted Schelmay’s 1997 Toms River North squad reached the Group 4 final and he boasts three sectional titles, two Shore Conference Tournament crowns, two Ocean County Tournament championships and three division titles. Schelmay concluded his career with a 346-181-2 mark. And they did this despite having to beat each other on the field.
So, the trio of Toms River head coaches are currently at 1,767-772-7, a record that translates to a combined .694 winning percentage. The three men, who actually coached together at Toms River South during Kenny’s early years, would, in fact, combine to win a total of 79 championships on conference, county and statewide levels.
Kenny Frank’s Toms River South teams would, remarkably, record 56 of those championships. Under Frank, the Indians won Group 3 championships in 1990, ‘94, ‘98, 2002 and ‘03 and reached the final in 2001. Kenny would also guide Toms River South to 10 sectional championships, 12 OCT crowns, 7 Shore Conference Tournament titles and 22 division crowns.
Mitch Powitz has been one of Frank’s assistants for 28 years and also played for Frank. The 1986 grad was an All-Shore honoree at Toms River South and later covered his high school coach during a brief stint as a high school sports reporter for the Asbury Park Press. “I have the perspective of having played for coach Frank, coached with him and reported on his games,” said Powitz. Mitch also knows what it’s like to make an All-Shore team, coach players who are All-Shore quality and pick an All-Shore team. Through it all, Powitz has gained a great perspective on coach Frank, as well.
“Coach has an unbelievable affect on his players,” says Powitz. “He does enjoy his players and they all come back. He has four daughters and I have three daughters, so these players are our sons.”
The 2021 version of Toms River South is a young and inexperienced squad from a varsity standpoint and opened the season a very uncustomary 2-8. But Frank has added some polish to the youngsters’ game and the team has won six of its last eight to improve to 8-10. South is currently the No. 10 seed in the NJSIAA South Jersey, Group 3 power points standings and will offer some concern for that sectional field when the tournament opens next Tuesday.
“This team is as good and works as hard as any team I’ve had,” said Frank, in proud Papa mode. “They came in with zero varsity experience and the sophomores jumped from eighth grade to playing at South. That’s very hard. They had to overcome a lot of adversity, as I did myself this year.”
Kenny Frank has been the career victories leader in New Jersey since 2012 when he passed the deceased Tony Ferrainolo of Memorial of West New York with his 755th win. Frank’s biggest threat to holding onto the all-time mark is Seton Hall Prep coach Mike Sheppard, Jr. The Pirates mentor became just the third coach in state history to reach 800 wins on May 10. Sheppard, Jr., just 62, has an 806-213-5 career mark. Retired Marty Kenney (832-349) of Christian Brothers Academy is next up for Sheppard, Jr.
“It’s a lot of wins,” says Frank. “I think of guys like Joe Kasberger and Clary Anderson. We always talked about those guys. You have to pick out a role model, whether it’s a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher or a coach.” Kasberger retired in 1968 as the all-time victories leader at 593 wins. Anderson’s records at Montclair have been elusive but it’s believed he, too, was a 500-game winner. Anderson coached into the ’60s, too, and was an even bigger coaching legend on the football field.
And Frank is truly happy, too, about the amount of his former players, role models he calls them, who come back to not only support the program but to talk to his players. “It’s great that so many of the alumni come back.”
Frank credits his success to his strong family upbringing and his simple neighborhood experiences in athletics.
“I thank the people I grew up with,” he says. “Playing stick ball, box ball and punch ball, the simple games we made up, really stick with you as a positive experience. I wish kids had more of that today.”
NOTES: Kenny Frank’s 900th victory marks the seventh major coaching milestone annexed this season. Diamond Nation.com updated the All-Time NJ Baseball Coaches Victories List in February and brought to the attention of the baseball community the eight milestones about to be breached.
The other coaches who have laid waste to victory milestones during the first month of the 2021 season include, Sheppard, Jr. (800) of Seton Hall Prep, Sam Tropiano (700) of Bishop Eustace, Dennis Barth (500) of Gloucester Catholic, Chris Roof (400) of Gov. Livingston, Bill Alvaro (400) of Kingsway and Brian Chapman (200) of Millburn. Gary Sarno’s Paul VI squad is 10-6, drawing him to within nine wins of 500 for his career. With just 5 regular season games remaining, it will take some postseason magic to prevent Sarno (491-299-2) from waiting until next year for No. 500.
Barth, by the way, picked up his 500th victory on May 15 BEFORE losing his 100th game. Barth, who sits now at 502-97-1 in his 19th season, has a state-record .836 career winning percentage.