March 12, 2019 | By Bobby Lee
Frank Joranko, ’52, one of the iconic figures in Albion College athletics as a student-athlete, a coach and an administrator, passed away March 7. He was 88 years old.
Joranko was a nine-time letter winner at Albion, earning four in football, four in baseball and one in basketball. The 1950 baseball team on which he played won a Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship. He excelled in football and was selected as the MIAA Most Valuable Player in 1951, after being an honorable mention selection in 1950.
Joranko returned to Albion in 1973 and served in several capacities.
As head football coach from 1973-1982, Joranko led Albion to MIAA championships in 1976 and 1977. The 1976 team garnered Albion's first 9-0 perfect season, and the 1977 squad earned the MIAA's first-ever postseason appearance in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
As Albion's head baseball coach from 1973-1995, Joranko led Albion to nine MIAA championships and was selected as an American Baseball Coaches District Coach in 1976. His nine MIAA baseball championships tied him with Stu Fritz (Hope College) for second-most in league history.
A member of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee, he was instrumental in bringing the Division III National Baseball Championships to Battle Creek for five years (1990-1994), with Albion College as the host school.
Joranko served as athletic director for Albion from 1975-1991, and was an associate professor of physical education. He oversaw construction of the Herbert and Grace Dow Recreation and Wellness Center, the Elkin Isaac Track and the stands at Sprankle-Sprandel Stadium. He also hired coach Pete Schmidt, who led Albion football to nine MIAA titles and the 1994 NCAA Division III national championship.
Through it all, however, Joranko's legacy remains the thousands of lives impacted throughout his career.
“He was a compassionate man who believed in the goodness of people,” recalled Dave Egnatuck, '71, longtime men’s track and field coach and former football running backs coach. “When Frank took over as athletic director, he was teaching, coaching, counseling students and directing the intramural program, and he did all of those jobs very well. All of those jobs are now split up.
“Frank’s most significant legacy is how he, along with Char Duff, championed the addition of women’s sports,” Egnatuk added. “He supported Title IX and its impact on our campus. That impacted thousands—even today—who don’t even realize it.”
Joranko's first head coaching job was at Ferndale High School and his first quarterback was Dave Neilson, '66. Joranko led the Eagles to three undefeated seasons, including a 9-0 run in 1972. There was no playoff system at the time, but writers voted Ferndale as the state's top team and Joranko was given Coach of the Year honors.
"Coach Joranko literally changed my life," said Neilson, a two-time all-MIAA quarterback at Albion and the MIAA commissioner from 2002-2014. "He put me on a positive path in my athletic career. Morley [Fraser] and Frank were the two men outside my father who impacted my life the most. Frank had great impact during his career at FHS and particularly for so many in the black community in Ferndale, with the NAACP in Albion, and in retirement in Lansing."
Former Albion head football coach Craig Rundle, '74, added, "Coach Joranko was honest and caring. It was evident the first time you met Frank that he was someone you could trust. As a player, you knew that Frank Joranko had your welfare and development as a player and person as his top priority. Coach Joranko was a coach, mentor and friend to me. Throughout my career, he was someone I could count on for advice and support. He was respected by everyone in the coaching community."
Joranko lived in Nashville, Tenn., at the time of his death and there is no public service for him there. Plans are being developed for a memorial service in Albion in the summer.