It was June of 1998. The tension of the state softball tournament had subsided for a moment. Andrean had just won the semistate semifinal.
Coach Frank Podkul gathered his girls in a circle on the field. This scribe listened in, expecting to hear some Knute Rockne “Gipper” speech.
Instead, Podkul said one sentence.
“If we wanted a split, we would've gone to Dairy Queen.”
The 59ers relaxed, laughed and won the second game, advanced to state and won the 2A title the next week.
That was one side. There was another.
In 2007, Andrean's softball team lost a game late in the regular season. Podkul read the seniors the riot act. They left the field in tears. Angry.
This coaching move paid off like the Dairy Queen line. The team regrouped and won the 3A state title.
On Wednesday night, Podkul laid his trophies down. He died in his sleep at the age of 59.
“He was a legend,” said Bill Finn, the father of Andrean quarterbacks. “Andrean football would not be where it is today without Frank Podkul. He will be missed. I love him.”
Podkul graduated from Bishop Noll in 1972. He went on to Wabash College before returning to Hammond, where he coached everything for the Warriors.
He was the defensive backs coach on Noll's 1989 state football championship team. Coach Jerry Vlasic remembered Podkul raising funds for shoes the team could wear in the Hoosier Dome.
Vlasic's first year at Noll was Podkul's senior year.
“Frank was a good athlete, a good teammate,” Vlasic said. “Everything he did he did with all of his heart. What he did with the softball team was amazing. Those girls thought he walked on water.'
Before moving to Andrean in 1995, Podkul won eight single-class sectionals at Noll and took the team to the semistate championship in 1994.
“And he did the same thing once he got here,” Andrean baseball coach Dave Pishkur said. “Our softball program was glorified intramurals before he came. Then they became a state power.”
Podkul got to state four times, winning twice. He then stepped away from coaching and athletic administration. He always told me he wanted to see his sons – Frankie and Nick – grow up.
Frankie is a senior at Andrean and Nick is a junior. Pishkur praised Frank and Jackie for the way they raised their sons.
“They are two of the nicest kids, mature and well respected,” Pishkur said. “There was never a function they were a part of that Frank wasn't there.”
My eyes saw a great coach, a winner between the lines. He said what he felt no matter what the next day's papers' consequence might be. The politically correct police got an elbow in the jaw from Podkul.
I miss coaches like that.
Noll assistant football coach Wally Kasprzycki was overcome with emotion Thursday morning. He stood up in Podkul's wedding and Podkul did the same in his.
"He was my dearest friend," Kasprzycki said. "He was an amazing man. People know how great of a coach he was, but he was really a smart man. We used to get in arguments just to argue."
Podkul had more color than a Crayola kaleidoscope. Funny. Irritating. Engaging. Self assured. He was the life of the party whether in an elementary school or at the Cavalier Inn.
After Whiting, Podkul led the fight for class sports extremely hard.
I know this. I'm not saying he should be called Saint Frank. Like the rest of us, he had his warts. This isn't about perfection. This is about a sportswriter remembering a person he is going to miss dearly.
And so, too, will Region sports fans.
Say a prayer for his family. Then, go to Dairy Queen. Frank would like that.