After a career urging his runners to “Go Hard!” through the finish, Hall of Fame track and cross country coach, husband and father Jack Drankoff arrived at the finish line in this life on Sept. 29, 2012, after a yearlong battle with cancer. As Jack would say, he fought the good fight.
Jack’s life both on and off the track was an illustration of deep faith, personal integrity, compassion and the desire to do the right thing. The impact he leaves on his own family and thousands of Green Bay Preble High School athletes over a career that spanned more than 40 years will not fade with his passing. Rather, those who were fortunate enough to share time with Jack will pay forward his example and positively impact generations to come.
Jack was born Sept. 5, 1945, in Milwaukee to the late Boris “Jack” and Theresa Drankoff. He was a graduate of Green Bay Premontre High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jack married his soulmate, Faye Johnson, on Nov. 7, 1964, at SS Peter & Paul Church in Green Bay. With Jack on the team bus, Faye put tens of thousands of miles on the family car in her role as Jack’s biggest fan.
Jack was always very proud of their children, Jack Jr. (Karen), Appleton; and Jenni (Jesse) Fuehrer, Wisconsin Rapids. He enjoyed spending time with his extended family on vacations, as well as attending his grandchildren’s events.
While Jack’s public identity centered on his coaching and physical education teaching career, it was his ability to relate to people in all walks of life and make them feel at ease that made him special.
When Jack “volunteered” to take over the Preble cross country program in 1969 as a young physical education teacher, his first team consisted of a handful of guys with very little running experience – including at least one who was out for the team to lose weight. Jack, himself, knew very little about distance running, but he quickly set out to learn everything he could to guide his athletes to the best of his ability.
Only a few years later, Jack had his Hornets state-ranked, and the legacy of Preble cross country excellence was born. In an era when most teams had small rosters and the sport wasn’t “cool,” Jack was able to transform cross country into a major sport with a reputation of being fun.
The primary reason came down to Jack’s respect for every runner on the team. Whether the fastest or the slowest on the roster, Jack treated each of his athletes as though they were the most important member. Kids loved Jack for that, whether they realized it at the time or not. His pre-race prayer was as consistent as his coaching philosophy: “Help us perform to the best of our ability and protect all our runners from harm.”
Perhaps his biggest challenge in coaching turned into one of his greatest joys. Girls – yes, girls – became part of the cross country program in 1978. Jack didn’t know quite how to handle this addition to his previously all-male world, but he quickly realized these athletes could handle virtually everything the boys were doing. The girls’ team quickly gained elite status, qualifying for the State Meet in just its second season in 1979.
The crowning achievement of Jack’s career came in 1984, when the Preble boys’ team won the WIAA Class A state championship. As a result, Jack was named Wisconsin Cross Country Coach of the Year and earned the Red Smith Award as High School Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000.
Jack served as head cross country coach from 1969-2004. With the tall coach at the helm, Preble’s boys and girls teams captured a total of 28 Fox River Valley Conference championships, qualified for State on 32 occasions and finished in the top five at State 12 times.
Jack’s success translated well to the Edison Junior High and later Preble High School boys track and field programs. Edison was a city power at the junior high level, and when Jack moved up to the varsity level in 1976, the Hornets began a run of success that included seven FRVC championships, nine City Meet titles and 11 Brown County Meet crowns over the next 16 years.
Jack’s coaching partners through much of his track career included Pat Prochnow and Rod Leadley – partners in crime who became more than just good friends. They became like a band of brothers.
After stepping down as head track coach in 1991, Jack served as Prochnow’s assistant through 2011 and was thrilled to participate in a continuing run of success that included four State Indoor championships. Jack was inducted into the Wisconsin Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 2008 and is a member of the Preble High School Hall of Fame.
In addition to his immediate family, Jack is further survived by his grandchildren, Katelyn and Lauren Drankoff, and Jenni’s children Kyle, Craig and Kayla Kummer; and his sister Janet (Aldo) Santaga. Aldo and Janet’s children include Greg (Ann) Santaga and family Angelina, Kristina, and Anthony; Jeff (Marcia) Santaga and family Jordan, Alexandra, and Alicia; and Scott (Mary) Santaga and family Anna, Sara, and Johnny.
Jack’s family would like to thank the caring staff at Green Bay Oncology, as well as everyone who contributed prayers and positive energy during his cancer journey. Jack was humbled and truly touched by the outpouring of support.
Friends are invited to celebrate Jack’s life on Wednesday, Oct. 3, from 4-8 p.m. at Proko-Wall Funeral Home, 1630 E. Mason St. Visitation will continue Thursday, Oct. 4, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. at St. Philip Church, 312 Victoria St. The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. presided by Bishop Robert Morneau. Entombment at Nicolet Memorial Gardens & Mausoleum.
© 2012 Copyright Mike Dauplaise
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