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Forging ‘Mathletes’: Hard work key for soccer coach Vrablic

For Frank Vrablic, life’s all about hard work and being prepared. If you put in the time and push hard, things typically go your way.

This old school mentality served him well during his 32 and half year teaching career at Manteo High School, where Vrablic also started and then coached both the Redskins men’s and women’s soccer programs for decades.

In fact, some might say he put soccer on the map for Dare County. Heck, they didn’t even have a field for the men’s soccer program in the beginning and they had to struggle against other sports to claim a practice field. Games were sometimes played in Kill Devil Hills behind the fire station because fields just weren’t available at Manteo. The parents purchased the first uniforms.

“The first day of the boys’ program, I had six players,” Vrablic said, smiling.

But he and his well-prepared, undefeated teams changed all of that. Today, there’s a beautiful, lighted field adjacent to the Manteo football stadium complete with a few bleachers and a shared concessions building with restrooms.

Vrablic retired back in January and now, former student athlete Tom Blanchard IV has made a formal request to name Manteo’s soccer field after coach Vrablic and the idea is currently being considered by Dare County Schools officials, said Superintendent John Farrelly.

“Mr. Vrablic has retired after a very successful career . . . we wish him the best in all future endeavors,” he said. In addition, “a member of the community has submitted a request to have the Manteo soccer field named after Mr. Vrablic.”

Farrelly went on to explain that the board of education has a facilities naming policy and a committee considers requests from the community and determines whether or not to make a recommendation to the full board following the prescribed criteria. He said that request will be considered by the committee at a yet-to-be-determined date.

When coach Vrablic heard about this news, he was obviously excited about the opportunity at hand. A quick look at his career numbers backs up the merit of naming the field after him.

Not only did coach Vrablic start both the men’s and women’s programs, they flourished under his “be prepared” work ethic: women’s soccer – 1997-2018, 264 wins; 98 losses and 17 ties for a winning percentage of 72.9 percent and 21 conference titles; men’s soccer – 1989-2014, 375 wins, 98 losses and 20 ties for a winning percentage of 76.5 percent and 41 conference titles.

For the record, a second team founder and coach Luis Martinez was also on the sidelines for the first several seasons starting in 1989, Vrablic noted.

Blanchard said Vrablic had a profound impact on him and his brothers Gordon and Ward Blanchard.

“He made us take every practice exam there was!” Tom said. “I never studied, we were that prepared.

“As the goal keeper, I was prepared for success too,” he added. “Those lessons I’m now teaching my children because of what I learned from Mr. Vrablic. He is the best teacher I’ve ever had. The world needs more teachers like him.”

Manteo Redskins soccer was so dominating that black and gold sports fans could count on a victory nearly every outing. Tom’s mom Bettie Kellogg of Roanoke Island was an original soccer mom and her three Blanchard boys were on the same squad at the same time for one season.

“I sat through a lot of games in my years,” she said. “They all had him for calculus and pre-calculus as well.”

Kellogg said she loved the sense of work ethic her boys learned from Vrablic and how it has helped them in their adult lives and that’s what prompted her oldest, Tom, Manteo Class of 1996, to write the nomination letter that went to the committee, which consists of school board members Ben Sproul, Joe Tauber and Frank Hester.

“Through Mr. Vrablic’s tenacious leadership and efforts in the community, the soccer program finally got their field beginning my senior year,” Tom wrote in the letter. “His influence is literally all over the MHS soccer program. There’s no one more deserving than him of this honor.”

And his mom Kellogg agrees.

“We’re waiting for that committee to meet,” she said. “This could be a wonderful opportunity to honor Frank … he’s been an awesome soccer coach and mentor.”

Board Chair Bea Basnight said coach Vrablic was, and still is, a wonderful teacher.

“He’s considered a superior math instructor,” she said.

Kellogg went on to say that in the beginning, coach Vrablic basically recruited his math students to play for him. “Football was king,” she added and finding a practice field, much less a game field, was a tall order.

Then Kellogg went a little deeper on the academic side of coach Vrablic’s tenure as chairman of the math department. Apparently, he would have his soccer squads studying their calculus on the bus for an hour or so on away matches. Back at school, Vrablic was available at all times – morning, noon and night.

“They would go to his classroom, after and before school,” Kellogg said. “During free period, he would tutor kids.” Some kids would come in on the weekends.

For students like Bree Tillett, Manteo Class of 2010, this was important.

“Vrablic had a way of making you want to do your best,” she said. “He treated you like an adult, but expected you to act like one. He expected you to work hard, but was always there if you got stuck – even on Saturday morning.

“Whether you were the smartest kid in calculus or struggling through Algebra 1,” she continued, “Vrablic was there to show you that you actually knew more than you thought you did, you just had to give a little time and effort.

“Vrablic pushed us above and beyond the required syllabus. When I got to N.C. State, I was full semesters beyond everyone else in my math courses because of him.

“Vrablic always used friendly competition to bring out the best in his students,” she added. “Vrablic knew you were great and you couldn’t let him down – it was like you didn’t know you had a ‘Mathlete’ in you all along.”

Over a cup of coffee at McDonald’s recently, Vrablic explained some of the things that make him tick.

“I like math, I like kids and I like challenges,” he said, smiling. “I believe in hard work.”

And he went on.

“I try to instill that in the kids, ‘take challenges!’”

Coach Vrablic was every bit as proud of his success at high level mathematics competitions as he was winning conference titles, playoff games and a state championship.

Every year, he took a small group of students to compete against the top schools such as the N.C. School of Science and Math and the Manteo students always did well.

“This is pretty high level math; most of these kids get perfect papers,” he said. “We have been a powerhouse in mathematics. I’ve been really proud of the results from the yearly math competitions.”

After many years of teaching the highest, hardest math classes, in recent years, he switched gears and taught entry math to ninth graders.

It’s all logical to him.

“In mathematics, you’re very logical,” he said. “I just tried to apply that logic when coaching soccer.

“Motivation is so important in the classroom and on the field,” Vrablic continued.

And motivated they were. Although the names of the conferences have changed over the years, at one time, the Manteo Redskins were undefeated in all matches played in the Northeastern Conference before Manteo and First Flight split northern Dare’s student body.

Along the way, Vrablic met some top players. “We’ve had so many who went on to play college.”

There was Ward, a tough goalie.

“He was a great goalie, great goalie, great goalie,” Vrablic said.

And there were Nate Whitehurst and Ryan Evans, he added. Another was Austin Gullett in his lime green cleats.

“He played at the Naval Academy . . . I think he scored 61 goals his senior year – he was a great athlete,” Vrablic said.

There’s an old photo of Gullet in his naval uniform hanging on the veterans’ bulletin board at the license tags office inside Island Pharmacy.

Vrablic said he could never understand why Gullet never blasted a ball into the back of the net when he had an open shot.

Instead, he always just tapped the ball past the goal line. One day, Vrablic asked him: “Why not kick it to the back of the net?” Gullet answered:

“Why should I?”

These days, coach Vrablic spends a lot of time working out mid-morning at the Dare County Center and getting sandy with the early morning crew at Momentum Fitness. When he was asked why he joined this group, Vrablic said he got started with them on a dare from a friend.

“Dr. [Walter] Holton said, ‘you outta go to a workout one day . . . if you can handle it,’” coach Vrablic said and added: “It was brutal.”

Now he can’t get enough.

“Just being out there on the beach in the morning at sunrise,” he said. “I’ve also ran the Storm the Beach [obstacle race] four times – I love that, just love it.”

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