After 10 years as principal and 30 years in education, David Franson, 55, retired as principal at Lyons on June 30.
The first Lyons alumnus named to that post, as a freshman in 1973 he competed on the school’s boys track and field state championship team. He also ran on the mile and two-mile relays that finished second at the Class AA state meet in 1976.
Following graduation from Kentucky, he served as Hinsdale Central’s boys track and field coach from 1986-95.
A few days before his final day, the La Grange native spoke to Doings sports writer George Wilcox about the impact sports had on his career.
The following is an edited transcript:
Q. What do you remember most about your high school athletic career?
A. How much focus it gave and the relationships that were built over the four years with teammates and coaches. I remember those individuals quite vividly.
Q. How did you begin running?
A. It started at Oak Middle School, which doesn’t exist anymore. It eventually evolved into what is now Park Jr. High. At the end of each spring, there would be a track meet or two. That’s when all these other (middle) schools would convene on LT’s South Campus Bennett Field; we had this track meet. It was at the track meet when Jim Kilbreth, the math teacher and (assistant) track coach at LT, saw me run a 440-yard dash. I remember my time.
Q. You do?
A. Oh yeah, you don’t forget stuff like that. It was 57.1 [seconds]. After the race he introduced himself to me and said, “I hope you are coming out to track your freshman year.” To which I said, “Well, thanks. I think I’m going to,” being quasi-noncommittal. It was the initiative I think he took [that convinced me to run]. He obviously showed an interest. He struck me as being very genuine; very sincere about that. He wasn’t going through motions.
Q. What do you remember from the 1973 championship team?
A. I remember the role that Ron Sterrenberg had played as a (two-time state champion) hurdler and Mark Mason as a two-miler and David Allen as a miler and the mile relay team.
Q. How do you remember all this?
A. I was there. I knew these guys. They were seniors when I was a freshman. You look up to them. They were role models. They were mentors. They were kids you revered. I remember a guy named John Long, who ran a 48-flat anchor leg. He was like my idol — a guy I really looked up to. That was the last time LT had a state (boys track) title. That year, I believe we tied with East St. Louis [with 16 points each]. It was a co-championship that year.
Q. How did you end up at Kentucky?
A. I ran all four years on a full athletic scholarship. I went there because that track coach was at the state meet my senior year. He saw me run the two fastest times I have ever run. That was the connection. I was recruited and decided to go there. I didn’t have as stellar of a college career that I hoped for, but it continued to be part of my life — competitive track. I also ran cross country there all four years and that was a difficult mental and physical commitment to make.
Q. How did your running career help you eventually as a teacher and then a principal?
A. There is a connect. It’s about commitment, the physical and mental commitment that are required for sustained effort. I think that extrapolates for other endeavors, whether it’s pursuing a grade in a difficult course, or whether it’s getting things done. I’d say there are overlaps or carry overs with working with others. Even though track is an individual sport, it’s poignant to note that some of the most memorable moments occurred while I was with relay teams. … In terms of getting things done, working through and with people, there are some good takeaways from doing a sport like track.
Q. As a former coach and athlete, how important has it been to you about bringing quality coaches into Lyons?
A. It has underscored to me the significant impact a coach can have on a student-athlete that’s on a program, and on the various levels within a program. If you have the rock-solid head coach, the JV coach, the sophomore, the freshman A, the freshman B [coaches] — that vertical alignment requires really, really good leadership and good philosophy at the top. Good schools — and LT is among them — we do go out of our way to be choosy and particular about who we hire into those positions.
Q. What do you think you’ll miss most about Lyons?
A. I don’t know if I am going to miss anything, per se. I am going to continue to live in the area and will fondly continue to be a perennial LT supporter and fan. I’ll enjoy watching LT continue to do their best in all of the co-curricular programs, teams, clubs and activities. What I’ll miss most about LT is the people. I will miss the students and I will miss the staff. We have outstanding staff members and we have outstanding students and I will miss them.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. I plan to travel extensively and taking classes in things that I enjoy. I think it’s important to me to model the whole life-long learning. I’ve professed that as a principal. I’m going to model that by taking classes in the Italian language, taking classes in music. Those are the things I enjoy and ultimately would like to learn more about. I would like to get more involved in volunteer work. I haven’t decided exactly where that’s going to be or what it’s going to look like. I would like to pursue volunteerism.