FORT GIBSON —
All over Northeastern Oklahoma — in coffee and donut shops, doodle-socking for crappie on the lake and in coach’s officies — the name of Frank Mobra is being spoken. I’m sure Frank will be well remembered as he touched many people in countless ways.
Frank and I came to Claremore in 1968 from different backgrounds. I worked with Frank from 1968 until my retirement in 1993. Working with Frank — first as a fellow teacher and later as assistant principal — was an education and rewarding experience in itself. Frank worked several years past that time before he took retirement. My retirement took me away from the school business and eventually from Claremore, but I’m sure Frank never really left the high school. ... It was too much a part of him.
The stories being told about Frank will be from the heart; but most of the best will never be heard. Frank took a financially down and out athletic program to financial stability and competitive respectability as only a man of Frank’s dedication and drive could do. Frank shared with me the difficulties of the early years, but my immediate supervisors — Harvey Johnson and Cleve Kinnear — told me on many occasions that Frank, as athletic director, seemed to work miracles.
Frank functioned as a mediating diplomatic, financial wizard and even counselor to young coaches; whatever skill was needed. He wore many hats well, and expertly handled ‘crisis after crisis’ that the public never heard about.
I would like to share three of many personal glimpses I have of Frank at his best. First, as a friend. Second, as an unwavering standard of responsibility to the young people he instructed. And, third, as a powerful motivating speaker.
As a friend: On November 7, 1969, the game against Pawhuska would decide the conference title. My wife, Sonja, insisted I go to the game even though she was very close to her delivery date with our first child. I went and settled in near the press box for what promised to be a thriller. Just before kick off, Buck Johnson came on the P/A system and said I had an emergency phone call in the coach’s office. As I moved toward the dressing room, I saw our team on the sidelines with Coach (Robert) Vardeman and the other coaches getting fired up. Coach Mobra was nowhere in sight. He stayed in the office talking to Sonja until I got there. Once, he was sure everything was OK, he left to join the team.
He could have left anyone holding the phone, and I would have understood. But that was not his style. He was a friend to a new, younger teacher first and the game was secondary — even a very important game. I immediately took Sonja to the hospital where our son, Jeff, was born. I never forgot Frank going that extra mile for my family.
Practicing and teaching responsibility: Several years later, I was helping the team by filming its games. That Friday’s game at Okmulgee was also one that decided the district championship. On this trip, I rode the bus with the team. At exactly 5:30 p.m., the door to the bus was closed and we were on our way to the game.
As we turned right on Sioux Street and headed south, the driver said, “Coach, here comes a player with his equipment bag.”
Coach Mobra said, “Drive on. Every one knew the time to be here and ready.”
I was sitting among the younger players. As we passed the player, a senior starting tackle, I took special notice of the various expressions on the young faces around me. The event was not lost on any of them. One of them said, “When Coach sets the rules, he really means what he says!”
Frank as a motivational speaker: There is an old movie about Knute Rockne in which he gives his famous halftime speech ending with “Let’s win this one for the Gipper!” ... The speech did inspire and Notre Dame won.
Many feel that it was the ultimate halftime motivational talk. Well, they should have been in Miami one fall Friday night in the early 70’s. Many former football players around Claremore will remember and can attest to this last story.
This Miami game was also for a title. By halftime, Claremore had fallen behind by at least two touchdowns to a very good Wardogs team. I was also filming this game. In the locker room, Coach Mobra gave the best halftime talk I have ever heard, better even than the one written for a movie!
Without a hint of note, he wove several scenarios that young people might face in life and the consequences if they were to let down. He finally brought it down to the game at hand. They could view the situation as hopeless with no chance and quit, or they could see they had a lot of catching up to do if they did not want to go home losers.
They did not go home losers.
It was as they say, “One for the books.”
The next time you see Coach Vardeman or Rick Mosier, ask either about that halftime talk.
There are thousands of stories that will be told by all that had the privilege of knowing Frank Mobra — the man, Marine, All-American football player, fisherman, coach, teacher or just a a friend.
Every one will be a classic.