By JACK CLARK
MT. VERNON —
Longtime Rams coach Frank Chornak is being inducted into the Mt. Vernon Township High School Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2013.
“Well, I think that it’s quite an honor. Coaching was something that I enjoyed and if I had my life to do over again, I would probably do the same thing,” said the 90-year-old Chornak from his home in Marion. “Coaching has been my life.”
The coach developed an extensive resume` while in the King City. Chornak was the head coach of the track and field team from 1955-1967. He was the head-coach of the football team from 1962-64. He was a football assistant from 1954-1961 and a basketball assistant from 1954-1967.
In 1956, the Rams track team won the South Seven conference championship, ending a 17-year reign by the Centralia Orphans.
In 1960, the Rams won the first IHSA track and field district championship.
Chornak also coached 4 by 220-yard relay team to a fifth-place finish in the IHSA state meet at the University of Illinois in 1959, then a third-place finish in 1960.
That earned Chornak Coach of the Year honors from the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association in 1960.
“We had a lot of great boys,” Chornak said. “We had one in particular named Earl Woods. We were running on a cinder track, and he ran the 100-yard dash in 9.8 seconds. If that had been on one of the more modern, rubberized tracks, his time would have been much lower than that. It would have been at least 9.7. He could have been competing for a national record.”
Chornak also had the distinction of playing for coach Stanley Changnon when he was in high school at West Frankfort. Little did he know then that coach Changnon would play an even more important role in his life later on.
“Mr. Changnon, to me, was a saint,” Chornak said. “I guess that he was my adopted father. I admired the man, I think that he was one of the greatest coaches ever. There are many things in my life that I owe to him. He was a great man, as well as a builder of men out of boys.”
Chornak was singled out by Changnon early on.
“I was the only athlete that he ever had playing football that he would allow to call the plays during a game. I guess that I impressed him. In getting ready for each season, he would come by my home and bring me the playbook,” Chornak said. “I would memorize it. I would also memorize the blocking assignments for every boy and if I called a play, I would tell each boy that I would be holding them responsible for us making yards.”
After his discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces, Chornak met up with Changnon once again.
“Coach Changnon was also the first person to call me when I got out of the service,” Chornak said. “He told me that he would wait for me to get my degree and then with the first opening, he was going to give me a call to come to Mt. Vernon. And he did. I guess that I impressed him along the way somewhere.”
Chornak also listed those who he deemed to be important in his coaching career. The list included Stan Changnon, Noble Thomas, Harold Hutchins, Scotty Gill, J.D. Shields and Will Lee.
“Those were the most enjoyable years of my life, being in Mt. Vernon,” Chornak said. “I worked with some of the finest human beings that anyone could imagine. Every morning, I looked forward to going to work, because I knew that I was going to have some fun and that I would be around some outstanding people.”
Chornak spoke with an affinity about Shields, who went on to become superintendent at MVTHS.
“He could dance. He could sing. He could play the piano. And he could bake a cake,” said Chornak. “He and I started out coaching there together. We coached the freshmen. One of those highlights was winning every game on the freshman and sophomore levels. One season we defeated Centralia in both Centralia and Mt. Vernon and that was the only losses in that class’s career.”