As stadium monikers go Lycoming College’s Robert L. Shangraw Athletic Complex, Person Field, Coach Frank Girardi Stadium is quite a mouthful. But the latest name to be honored at its Union Avenue address was added before the beloved coach’s family, friends, and a few hundred of his former players during pre-game ceremonies at the Warriors’ first home game of the season earlier this month.
Seeing ‘Coach Frank Girardi Stadium’ emblazed upon the stadium’s home stands was a moment that left the longtime coach humbled and a bit nervous as the announcement made a year ago had formally come to fruition.
From my familiar press box location, watching Coach Girardi stride the sidelines in front of the Warriors bench was a sight I had seen unfold so many times covering Lycoming games. This time, however, it was different. A podium stood at the 50-yard line, almost reverently awaiting its honored guest to arrive. His players, many of whom had driven considerable distances to share the moment, formed a huge semi-circle at midfield rather than dressed in football gear as they had done so many times for their former coach on this very same field.
Family members stood in readiness as Coach G, with his familiar Lycoming baseball cap atop his head, appreciably surveyed the sight before him and slowly took a walk of honor in front of the assembled.
A video tribute to the Girardi years flashed across the stadium scoreboard, narrated by veteran broadcaster Ken Sawyer, who himself had called radio accounts of many of Girardi’s successful seasons.
With all in readiness, Lycoming College president Kent Trachte strode to the microphone to begin the proceedings,
“I’ve come to know him as a man of integrity who cares deeply about his own family and the men who played football for him and are part of his Lycoming family. I’ve learned much about leadership from Frank, especially in inspiring others to believe in their own abilities, which is perhaps the greatest attribute that a leader needs.
“Coach Girardi was a gifted leader of student-athletes who believed in and developed the potential of his student-athletes by demanding excellence while also cultivating a sense of belonging and family. He has profoundly impacted Lycoming College and has done much to sustain our culture of excellence.
“I am delighted today to memorialize in perpetuity your contributions to Lycoming College and its student-athletes by dedicating this stadium in your honor.”
Those contributions have been numerous both on the athletic field and behind the scenes.
Girardi began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Jersey Shore High School in 1963, becoming the school’s head coach three years later. He joined the Lycoming College football staff as an assistant coach from 1969-1971 and began his 36-year run as the Warriors head coach in 1972. Along the way, his teams won 257 games, ranking him 10th in Division III history. He led the Warriors to the NCAA Division III National title game in 1990 and 1997. His teams won 13 Mid-Atlantic Conference titles. He also served as the college’s athletic director for 23 years.
Highlighted by his 2016 induction into the NCAA National Football Hall of Fame, Girardi has also been honored by inclusions in the Pennsylvania State, West Branch Valley, and West Chester University Halls of Fame.
Following President Trachte’s introduction, Girardi took to the podium and delivered a pridefully short seventy-second acceptance to the gathering.
“What I can say right now is that I am humbled and grateful for this ceremony. I want to sincerely thank President Trachte, his team, and the Board of Trustees for this incredible honor.
“I want to thank all of our coaches and players who have had such an impact on the success of our program over the years, and you see many of them here on the field behind me right now, and they still think they can play! And you know what? I believe them!
“I have been blessed with an incredible family. My wife, Lynne, loved our football program and loved our players. She is an amazing wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother and has had such a positive influence on all of us. Our four kids, son-in-law, four grandkids, and grandson-in-law have all graduated from Lycoming. I am very proud of that.
“I’ve said this before on different occasions, but I’ll say it again. The best part of achieving any recognition that you may receive in your lifetime is sharing it with others: your family, your loved ones, your friends, the outstanding fans that we had, and that’s what I am doing today. I am sharing this wonderful day with all of you.”
That simple speech, far less fiery than the many pre-game locker room utterances he had given over the years, may best define life’s priorities Frank Girardi has exemplified over his many years.
He first became Lycoming College’s football coach as the result of a 1971 unannounced Saturday morning visit to his home by then-Lycoming College president Dr. Harold Hutson. A handshake sealed that deal. The rest, as they say, is history.