Bob Frisk: He created the model for the right way to report on high school sports

  • Bob Frisk was the proud Grand Marshal of the 75th annual Palatine Relays in 2007. Frisk, the legendary former sports editor of The Daily Herald, passed away Saturday at 83.

    Bob Frisk was the proud Grand Marshal of the 75th annual Palatine Relays in 2007. Frisk, the legendary former sports editor of The Daily Herald, passed away Saturday at 83. Daily Herald File photo

 
By Marty Maciaszek
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 5/17/2020 5:49 PM

The life Bob Frisk brought to high school sports makes his passing a big story to so many.

Bob would have preferred everything you are reading about him was devoted to high school athletes. Although Bob would have deflected credit, that devotion is the reason you have been fortunate to read so many wonderful stories about the kids and their coaches and teams for decades in The Daily Herald.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There is no question Bob Frisk was the proverbial face of a franchise that grew exponentially across the suburbs from its coverage of just Palatine and Arlington high schools in the early 1950s.

Bob passed away peacefully Saturday after a long battle with cancer. He was at peace in opting against treatment and fighting the battle his way.

Bob left us at 83 years young -- he would've been 84 in June -- because of all the time spent watching games kids play. There was no place like home like the sidelines of Prospect's George Gattas Stadium for football, courtside for basketball in his beloved Arlington's Grace Gym or at the Wheeling Hardwood Classic, behind the backstop for softball at Barrington or on the infield of Chic Anderson Stadium for the Palatine Relays.

There was value to high school sports Bob fully understood from his days as a track athlete for legendary coach and lifelong friend Russ Attis at Arlington. Lessons he knew would last a lifetime for many athletes. Excitement and raw emotion right down the street that didn't cost a chunk of your life savings to witness.

High school coaches outside The Daily Herald's circulation area who also saw that value would ask, "When are you guys coming over here?" They wanted to be a part of the quality high school coverage Bob built.

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Coaches loved seeing him at their games. One threatened to put Bob into action. Buffalo Grove's Rich Roberts, unhappy with the play of a quarterbacks, caught a glimpse of Bob nearby on the sideline and shouted toward the huddle, "I'll put Frisk in and he'll run it better!"

Bob made sure there was nothing better than reading the Herald if you were a high school coach, athlete, fan or writer. Sure, there were always some complaints as Bob had an "Onions and Orchids" file from when people had to express their thoughts through handwritten notes instead of emails or tweets. When the newspaper industry was thriving, every Friday during the school year there were separate "Sports Extra" sections with 8 pages of prep coverage. For a time they included extensive underclass reports. What other daily newspaper this size did that?

The commitment to high school sports gave our writers the ability to tell so many great stories. Positive stories of hard work, perseverance and overcoming adversity that Bob had plenty of and loved.

Bob compiled all-state track teams early in his career after covering the state meet when it was held in Champaign. How would you like to open the paper and see a story and pictures of one of the greatest athletes ever, legendary Olympian Jesse Owens, from one of those meets?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Baseball fans can find some of the most prodigious home runs in baseball history from Dave Kingman on YouTube. In a game at the end of Kingman's career at Prospect, he hit 3 of the longest home runs Bob had ever seen by a high school player. One landed on the street about 500 feet from home plate at what is now Larry Pohlman Field.

Millions of people witnessed the basketball success of Dave Corzine at DePaul and in the NBA for 13 seasons. Bob saw the formative years when the big kid with the big hair led Hersey's historic run as the first Mid-Suburban League team to reach the state basketball Elite Eight in 1974.

And Bob was thrilled to see Jimmy Garoppolo go from the quarterback who couldn't get a major college scholarship offer at Rolling Meadows to a starter in this year's Super Bowl for the 49ers. He truly was a proud father when local athletes and teams succeeded.

Bob was also a great link to so many family tree sports stories. From watching Andy Pancratz as a basketball star in the early '70s at Hersey to seeing his oldest son Mark orchestrate arguably the greatest story in Mid-Suburban League history when Schaumburg won the 2001 boys state basketball tournament.

From Mike Tolzien at Prospect to his son Scott as a quarterback at Fremd and in the NFL. From Ward Schell at Arlington to his son Teddy as a star quarterback at Barrington. And from close friend Fred Lussow at Prospect to his sons as athletes at Hersey.

Bob was a major champion of making sure girls sports received significant coverage. A memorable achievement was helping get the Prospect field house named after girls sports pioneer and close friend Jean Walker.

Bob understood the challenges women such as Walker, Pat Ritchie at Wheeling, Ruthann Normann at Prospect, Pam Devins at Barrington and many others faced in the early years of Title IX and how they paved the way for successful coaches that included Mary Fendley at Hersey, Jeanette Pancratz at Schaumburg and Nancy Lill at Hersey. Not to mention basketball stars Candace Parker at Naperville Central and Tamika Catchings at Stevenson, who would go on to long professional careers.

Retirement from the Herald in 2008, the passage of time and Bob's recent health problems didn't diminish his youthful enthusiasm for high school sports. Shortly after Bob started his stay last fall at the Lutheran Home in Arlington Heights he learned former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dick Bokelmann was also a resident.

Bokelmann pitched for the Arlington Cardinals in high school and was one of Bob's idols as a kid. Bob was ecstatic about the opportunities he had to share stories with Bokelmann before his death two days after Christmas. He was equally excited that he could share one of those visits with a pair of Arlington grads and friends, Gary Brodnan and legendary American Legion baseball coach Lloyd Meyer.

Sharing the joys of high school sports was one of Bob's passions. From the camaraderie of Daily Herald All-Area banquets, to his innovative "Pack The Place" initiative for boys and girls basketball with the Illinois High School Association, Bob wanted the masses to experience the excitement he got from watching high school sports.

Bob's visitation and funeral would be in a place packed with so many people sharing their memories. Unfortunately that's not possible now because of the pandemic.

The plan is to hold a celebration when it's considered safe to have big gatherings. When it happens, Bob will be looking down and smiling at everyone sharing the kind of stories and memories he loved throughout his wonderful life.

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