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Frank Garis: A Remarkable Gift to State College Sports

by on February 22, 2018 5:00 AM

Frank Garis is an unforgettable man, that’s for sure. But what makes him special, other than the fact that he’s served for 53 years as a volunteer for State College school sports? Maybe it’s the way that Frank combines traits that rarely fit together in one life. Ask yourself if you know anyone else like him:

  • Frank is a diabetic—but he constantly gives candy to State College athletes and their family members.  

  • He compiles mountains of statistics for a variety of State High teams—but he doesn’t use a computer and does it all on a manual typewriter.  

  • Garis has never owned a car and walks everywhere — but he goes skydiving each year on his birthday.  

  • Most impressively, says Aaron Pavlechko, State College’s junior high wrestling coach, “He’s a 76-year-old 14-year-old. He can talk to any of these kids on their level.”

But apart from such unique and wonderful qualities, there’s another factor that says even more about Frank Garis. He is rock-solid reliable in fulfilling his commitments to various sports teams within the State College Area School District.


“His reach has been so broad to so many teams, athletes and families that it’s tough to quantify,” says Chris Weakland, State College’s athletic director. “If you have somebody in your life who you can always count on, that’s a special gift. And Frank has been a special gift. The kids love him. Everybody loves him.”  

“The amount of work, time and dedication that Frank has given is astounding,” notes local radio announcer Jeff Byers, a former football player and wrestler who graduated from State High in 1987. “He’s been a gift to generations of student athletes. He’s an historical anchor.”

Indeed, Frank Garis has done a lot for State College sports for a very long time. He began by assisting the wrestling programs — junior high, junior varsity and varsity — in 1965. Then, 26 years later, he branched out to the football program. More recently, he’s officiated, kept stats or offered encouragement for almost every State High sport. That’s right, you can name any State College school sport — for boys or girls — and unless you mention ice hockey or swimming, you’ll be talking about a team that has benefited from Frank’s willingness to serve.     


Garis graduated from State High in 1960. Although he did some wrestling in junior high and was a member of the varsity football team, Frank never earned much playing time.

Says Kurt Haushalter, a longtime coach with the 9th grade football team, “He always likes to joke with the kids and say that when he played football, he played end, guard and tackle. He sat at the end of the bench, guarded the water cooler and tackled anybody who came near it.”

Roughly six months after his high school graduation, Garis entered the U.S. Navy. After four years of serving Uncle Sam — highlighted by time on the aircraft carrier USS Bennington — he returned to his hometown in early 1965. Right away, he began assisting the wrestling program which was still led by Homer Barr, the legend who coached the Little Lions to 64 straight dual meet victories (from 1956 to 1962) during Frank’s school days.

Garis probably would have helped other sports much earlier, but it wasn’t until 1991 that he got an invitation to serve. Ron Pavlechko, the head coach for varsity football from 1977 to 1996 (and the father of Aaron) asked Frank to help out. The result was more than Pavlechko could have imagined, in both quantity and quality of service.


Garis jumped into the football program with both feet, compiling statistics for the junior high team, the ninth grade team, the junior varsity and the varsity. Sometimes he helped operate the first down chains. At the end of each fall, he produced statistical yearbooks for all the football teams, giving a copy to each player — after paying for the printing himself.  

Perhaps because of his friendship with coaches like Doug Arnold and Haushalter, the ninth grade football team found a special place in Frank’s heart and an extra-high level of commitment. Out of the 228 games played by that team since 1991, Frank has missed just two. On one occasion, he needed to visit the doctor; on another, he attended his father’s funeral.

“He’s totally committed,” says Arnold.  “It doesn’t matter — rain, snow, sleet, whether he feels good or whether he doesn’t — he’s there for the kids.”


The same holds true for other sports, especially junior high wrestling.  

“We’ll have an away event on a Saturday, and we might leave the high school at 6 a.m.,” says Aaron Pavlechko. “So I’ll pull into the parking lot at 5:40 a.m. and Frank will be waiting for me with a box of bagels so that the kids have something to eat after weigh-ins.”

It’s no wonder that State College’s junior high and youth wrestling programs give out a “Frank Garis Award” at the end of each year. The criteria? “It goes to a kid who works hard,” says Pavlechko. “He may not be the best wrestler in the room for us but the one who never gives up and pays attention to detail.”

And yes, those are the traits that have always defined Frank Garis, especially prior to his 2001 retirement from Penn State. When serving with Penn State’s Office of Physical Plant, Frank began his day by walking to campus, arriving by 5 a.m. Although he would finish his job at 1:30 pm, that wasn’t early enough if a State College team was playing an away game that started in the afternoon. In such cases, Frank would split one vacation day into two-hour portions and be able to attend four away games for the price of one day.

Frank Garis kept score, as always, during a recent wrestling match between Bellefonte and State College. (Photo by Chris Weakland)


So why has Frank been willing to give so much time to State High for so many years?

“I love the kids,” he says. “And I enjoy sports, I really do. I continue to think, ‘Maybe this will be my last year,’ but then I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do when it’s over? Can I sit home and just watch soap operas on television?’ No, I couldn’t do that.”  

Garis gets especially excited when he sees a struggling State College athlete refuse to quit.

“He likes to see wins,” says Pavlechko, “but he really likes to see the kid who’s working hard become successful.”

When asked for an example of such heroics, Frank tells the recent story of another Pavlechko — son of Aaron and grandson of Ron. “We had a junior high wrestling match the other day,” says Frank, “and Aaron Pavlechko’s son, Nick, was trailing 12-2. But he pinned the other kid with one second left. A lot of people would say he shouldn’t have gotten behind by so many points. But I thought that was great. You never quit.”


Although the State College native is serious about hard work, he injects fun into sports teams through his constant distribution of candy. If the song, “The Candy Man” hadn’t been written for the 1971 Willy Wonka movie, it might have been written to honor Frank.  He’s always packing sugar in the form of chocolate bars, Life Savers, Jolly Ranchers, gummy bears, Swedish fish, whatever.

“I don’t think the man is ever without candy,” says Haushalter. “I’ll go with my sons to a varsity game, and he’ll notice us and come over and start handing out candy to my kids.”

And, according to Arnold, Frank keeps his eye open for special confections.  “He’s always looking for the unique candy bars like “Oh Henry!’—you just don’t see those things any more—or he’ll come to practice and be all excited saying, ‘I got Clark Bars!’“

As the keeper of statistics, Frank gets pestered by many young athletes, especially football defenders who are trying to pad their tackling stats. But he’s long since proven that his wit is more than a match for these pseudo-tacklers.  

“You don’t get a tackle if the guy falls down and you fall on top of him,” he’ll say.  Or he might note that “you must have really, really long arms because you weren’t even in the game!”

In his 53 years of volunteer service, Frank Garis has filled up countless scorebooks like this one with the results of State College sports events. (Photo by Chris Weakland)


As recently as the spring of 2017, Garis and some of his friends were wondering if he might need to end his volunteer efforts. “I have Graves’ disease (resulting in an overactive thyroid),” says Frank, “and it was unbelievable how I had gone downhill.”  

Fortunately, adjustments in Frank’s medications brought dramatic improvement, and he was able to continue serving with only a slight reduction in duties last fall and this winter.

“I can’t even imagine living without sports,” says the 76-year-old. “And in fact, when I thought I was going to have to give it up, it was really heart-pressing to say, ‘Well, maybe I’m just at the end of the line.’ I can’t imagine giving up the things I like to do.”

But what do you hope your legacy will be, Frank, when the time eventually comes for you to cease volunteering with the State College sports program?

“All I think that anybody can be remembered for is that you gave your best effort in every possible situation, that you did your best job.”

Bill Horlacher is a native of Happy Valley, a 1970 graduate of State College High School and a 1974 graduate of Penn State (journalism). He has spent his last 30 years in service to international students, helping them with personal, cultural and spiritual adjustments to America. After 39 years of living in California, Maryland and Texas, Bill returned to State College in 2013 along with his wife, Kathy.
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