Frank stepped onto the campus of Loyola Academy for the first time fifty-seven years ago. It was the fall of 1966, and Frank, with the unwavering support and encouragement of his wife, Alice, was about to embark on a new journey that would define the rest of his career as an extraordinary coach, teacher, and administrator.
Born on Christmas Eve, 1926, Francis Joseph Amato grew up in Kingston, New York, on the banks of the Hudson River. He was a child of the Depression, forged with those values of simplicity, sacrifice, hard work, and loyalty that define his generation. He emerged a prep standout in football and track at Kingston High School, a fleet, hard-nosed fullback on the gridiron and a brilliant hurdler on the cinders. After graduation in 1944, with war raging in Europe and the Pacific, Frank put off college and enlisted in the Marine Corps.
Assigned to the legendary First Division as a sharpshooter, he was on a troop ship in the Pacific preparing for the invasion of Japan when the news came that the war had ended. Frank was then sent to Tangshan in northern China as part of the Army of Occupation. There he manned the post for ten chaotic months, completing his duty with an honorable discharge in 1946. He returned stateside where he found Coach Frank Leahy, building his post-war Notre Dame dynasty, waiting with an offer for Frank to play football for the Fighting Irish. Though his football career in South Bend ended abruptly with a leg injury in 1949, he stayed with the team until graduation in 1952.
Armed with a bachelor of science degree in physical education from Notre Dame, Frank looked to launch a career in teaching and coaching. He would not be going alone. Besides a vocation, he had discovered something else at Notre Dame that proved more valuable—a young woman from South Bend, Indiana, by the name of Alice Ruszkowski. They had met on a blind date after a Notre Dame-Northwestern game in September of 1948, and thereafter commenced a 71-year love affair.
A tip from an old Notre Dame teammate led the Amatos to Norfolk Catholic in Virginia, where Frank served four years from 1952-1956 before subsequently returning to the Midwest. From 1957-1961, Frank spent four memorable years at St. Thomas in Rockford and then headed to the Chicago area in 1961, where he did short stints at St. George in Evanston and Immaculate Conception in Elmhurst.
In those days, you were hired to do a lot of everything, and Frank’s resume testifies to that. He taught physical education, history, and biology. He coached football, basketball, and track. He served as athletic director. He wore many hats in those early years, each experience readying him for the many responsibilities he would soon take on at the Academy.
In the fall of 1966, at the age of 40, Frank came to Loyola, hired to teach physical education and coach football and track. He would never look back. On the day that he sat with Father Michael English to sign that first contract, little could he have known that this would be his last school, and that when he and Alice moved their five children into the house across the street, they would not pack up ever again. It was a good fit from the start. Frank felt that Loyola’s emphasis on service to others and education the whole person meshed well with his own values. Little could he have known that he was beginning one of the great Loyola stories, a journey filled with accomplishment, none more significant than helping to shape the lives of two generations of young women and men. He settled in for the long haul, despite a number of offers from other schools as the decades came and went. Through it all, he has carried himself with the constant grace and good cheer that define him, that even-tempered, solid, genial disposition that made him a father-figure to thousands of young Ramblers engaged in the delicate and difficult process of growing up.
In his ten seasons as an assistant coach on a legendary football staff, Frank was an integral part of some of the storied teams in Rambler history, including three Hall of Fame greats: the 1966 Prep Bowl repeat champions, the undefeated and nationally-ranked 1969 team that some would argue is Loyola’s greatest squad, and the 1975 Illinois state semi-finalists. After serving as a line coach for one season, Frank spent the rest of his tenure as the backfield coach, and helped to produce a string of brilliant ball carriers, some among the finest to ever take the Sachs Stadium field. In his decade on the sidelines, he nurtured the careers of nine future Hall of Famers. When he decided to resign from football to devote more time to his administrative duties in the dean’s office, he could look back on an era of pigskin brilliance, marked by three CCL titles, two Prep Bowl titles, and Loyola’s—and the CCL’s—first IHSA Final Four berth.
When Frank took the reins of Loyola’s track and field program in the winter of 1967, there was much work to be done to lift the program to the next level. For indoor track, he had nothing more than a gym balcony, stairs, and hallways in which to train his troops. Outdoors, he had a poorly maintained cinder track and not much else. And so he went to work. He talked Brother Small into making scores of hurdles in his workshop. He created throwing areas for the shot and discus. He rebuilt the jump pits. He scavenged what he could to create safe landings for the high jump and pole vault. He and his assistants, Hall of Famers Fr. Bob Bueter, SJ, and Art Morelli, personally leveled, rolled, and lined the cinder track, and, when necessary, used coffee cans to rid the track of puddles after a hard rain. Most important, though, he recruited kids in the hallways and constructed a quality staff to develop them. Together, they did their business the Catholic League way—they outworked everybody else.
Along the way, Frank created a program that for 47 straight years has been a consistent, highly-respected competitor, a perennial contender vying for indoor and outdoor titles in CCL competition while producing a glittering array of top-notch track and field athletes. It was Frank’s stewardship of Loyola’s track and field fortunes that became his signature accomplishment as a coach. In a sport with 18 different events and several very specialized disciplines, Frank built a reputation for fielding a well-prepared, balanced ensemble year in and year out.
During his legendary run as head track coach from 1966 through 2013, Frank’s teams recorded 2,706 wins against 1,185 losses, a winning percentage of 70 percent. His 47 campaigns garnered 30 Catholic League indoor and outdoor team titles along with 20 runner-up finishes. 208 Ramblers claimed individual and relay CCL titles. Although some of his greatest athletes competed in the CCL’s pre-IHSA days and were thus unable to compete in state competition, over 90 track and field men since 1975 have qualified for the state finals, with 14 of his boys earning All-State status with their performances at the state championship meet. When Frank took control of the girls’ program in 1996, success followed quickly, with 13 GCAC crowns, multiple GCAC champions and state qualifiers, and three All-State honors.
“Coach Amato was instrumental in the development of the girls’ track program and also started the GCAC indoor championship meet,” explains Physical Education Teacher and Head Girls’ Cross Country & Track Coach Mr. ChrisJon L. Simon ’86. “His enthusiasm for the girls’ program was infectious, and he mentored many girls during their years at Loyola and beyond.”
One of those girls was Ms. Katie K. Seeberg ’01, now a Loyola Academy English teacher and an assistant cross country coach. “Coach Amato was all the best of Loyola Academy,” she says. “The record books will point to countless titles, championships, and awards, but Coach’s greatest legacy will be how he made people feel. He had this remarkable way of making you feel like you were special and that you could do it. That easy gait, that warm smile, that trademark wave—all marks of a man who taught and coached and lived with grace, humility, and love.”
In one of the longest sustained careers in Illinois coaching history, Frank not only built Loyola into a Catholic League powerhouse, but also was instrumental in promoting track and field both in the league and throughout Chicago and the state. He insisted on well-organized meets and well-educated coaches, on championship facilities and first-rate equipment. He organized coaching clinics. He directed special competitions like the Catholic-Public League meet, the Pepsi Challenge indoor meet, and the Bally Games. He became deeply involved with the Prairie State Games, a statewide, Olympic-style competition. Frank brought a professionalism and a rigorous set of standards to a sport that he loved, a sport that he wanted to bring out of the periphery and into the spotlight.
Frank’s commitment to track and field and, more importantly, his commitment to mentoring and molding the young people in his keeping has not gone unnoticed. He earned ten Lawless Awards as the CCL Coach of the Year in track and field, and was twice named CCL Man of the Year. In 1985, he was inducted into both the Chicago Catholic League Hall of Fame and the Illinois Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame. In 2006, in recognition of four decades of distinguished service to Loyola and its young men and women, Frank and Alice were honored with the Rev. Daniel A. Lord Award, Loyola’s highest honor. “Every student has been an individual to me,” Frank reflected in 2006. “I’ve worked hard at figuring out what each young person’s needs were—and then we would go from there. Some needed to be patted on the back or encouraged. Others needed to stop making excuses and do what they are capable of doing. I always wanted to do the best that I could do to help these kids see their own potential and the things that they could accomplish if they really worked at it. Often, all they needed was somebody to encourage and support them and give them a reason why they should not give up. If I could make these young people happy or more successful than they thought they could be, then that was my reward. There’s nothing greater than finding out that you have done something that has really helped someone.”
"He just had a gift in seeing the potential in others and helping them achieve their goals," says Loyola Academy Campus Minister and Assistant Track and Field Coach Johnny Miller '15, who now strives to bring Coach Amato's knowledge and love for the sport to his own coaching. "I attribute a lot of my success to Coach Amato. From being one of his athletes to having the opportunity to coach alongside his staff and former athletes has been invaluable. What I loved about my relationship with Coach was its simplicity. After every race my first thought was, 'I'll walk over to Coach and he will guide me to be better.' He didn't have to say much for it to really connect and resonate with me as an athlete. Coach Amato was a gift to the track and field community."
In 2009, Loyola’s new track was renamed the Amato track in honor of Frank and the program he had built. In 2011, in his 60th year as a coach, he capped an extraordinary career in dramatic fashion with the news of his selection by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association as National Coach of the Year for Boys’ Track and Field, a fitting tribute to a great man. In 2013, after 47 years of extraordinary leadership, Frank retired. Amato has led the Ramblers to 31 indoor and outdoor CCL championships over the years. To honor their beloved coach, a group of alumni spearheaded by Robert C. Schwarze ’80, established The Frank J. Amato Track and Field Award. The award, which includes a college scholarship allowance, is presented annually to a senior member of the track and field team for outstanding performance in the classroom and on the track.
“Coach Amato influenced countless Rambler athletes, colleagues, parents, and even opposing coaches,” reflects Loyola Academy Director of Research & Technology Mr. David A. Behof ’92, who ran for Coach Amato in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today, Dave also serves as an assistant cross country and track coach. “His belief in each athlete he coached led them to believe in themselves and excel on the field, on the track, and in life. Pre-meet talk—including the themes of ‘competing versus participating’ and ‘the standards and traditions of Loyola Academy’—unite decades of Loyola Academy track athletes. Personally, my favorite times with Coach were spent sitting in his office learning from someone who had so much to share. His legacy will live on through ‘his coaches’ and all those who competed for him.”
Finally, in 2018, Frank was named the recipient of the Sports Faith International All Star Catholic High School Lifetime Achievement Award. He was honored at the 11th annual Sports Faith Hall of Fame ceremony on Friday at Mundelein Seminary.
In addition to his contributions to Loyola as a coach and teacher, Frank has served with distinction in a variety of administrative posts at the Academy. For fifteen years, from 1974-1989, he served as assistant dean of students, followed by a seven-year stint as director of facilities from 1989-1996. In 1996, Frank was named executive director of alumni relations, and then, two years later, added the role of executive director of the Athletic Hall of Fame to his responsibilities. In that capacity, he was given the task of forming a committee to resuscitate the Hall of Fame after years of dormancy since its inception in 1985. He did just that, and the first induction dinner of the newly constituted Hall of Fame was held in the fall of 1998 to remarkable success. In the past fifteen years, Frank Amato’s tireless dedication has led to the induction of 272 individuals and 61 teams to the Athletic Hall of Fame, as well the honoring of 12 recipients of the Frank J. Amato Excellence in Coaching Award and 9 recipients of the John E. Hoerster Athletic Medal of Honor Award.
As we celebrate the life and legacy of Frank Amato, we would be remiss to leave out Alice Amato, who worked in Loyola’s business office for 28 years, beginning in 1970. She and Frank raised five children: Frank Jr. ’69, Tony ’71, Mary Frances, John ’76, and Ann. In June 2021, they celebrated 70 years of marriage. Alice passed away just months before Frank in July 2022.
Together, Alice and Frank Amato have left an indelible impression on the hearts and minds of those who are lucky enough to have known them. “After winning GCAC or CCL championship meets, we would celebrate at Coach’s house with the largest spread put on by Alice,” recalls Coach Simon.
Coach Amato’s impact will not soon be forgotten. Just ask Mr. Daniel Seeberg ’75, who competed for Coach Amato in the 1970s, would return to Loyola to coach alongside Frank and teach English for forty-one years. “Frank Amato meant so much to so many of us —and in no small way shaped and altered our young lives, and helped us become the men and women we have become. I know that is true for me,” Seeberg says. “It was my good fortune to spend many, many hours with him over the years—riding buses, planning practices, coaching our kids, celebrating good days, enjoying dinners and drinks and laughter, listening to his old stories and creating some of our own. I loved him like a father. I’m absolutely certain that there are many others who feel the same way about him and his place in their lives.
I’ve been blessed to know three great men in my life—my father, my father-in-law, and Frank J. Amato.”For more information, including services for Coach, please visit Donnellan Family Funeral Services online. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Loyola Academy Coach Frank J. Amato Track and Field Award at goramblers.org/amatoaward .