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Obituary — Frank Cheek, 1937-2020

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Frank James Cheek was born on August 6, 1937 to Alberta and Floyd Cheek in Dayton, Kentucky. He was the second oldest of five children. Alberta was just 18 years old when Frank was born. Alberta was an athletic woman who enjoyed playing and coaching baseball. She coached Frank throughout his childhood. 

Growing up he spent his days playing any competitive game with his sister and childhood friends, with the same rule, be home when the streetlights come on. Attending school was mandatory and he wasn’t passionate about attending. He preferred to work to help support his family.  

His teenage years he ran with a rough crowd on the streets, never backing down from a fight and spent his evening setting pins at the bowling alley. He quickly learned how to survive on the streets and make extra tips/money by becoming quick and efficient at his job.

Frank graduated from Newport High School in 1954 at the age of 17. He was beginning to realize that Newport was not the best place to be, so with a few childhood friends he joined the Marine Corps. While in the Marine Corp he learned many life lessons which he carried with him for the rest of his life.

It was while he was in the Marines and serving time at the Alameda Base that he met the love of his life, Mary Lou. He saw her in the stairwell at church. He approached her pretending to be the church social chairman and explained he would need her phone number.

Clever as always he was able to get her number, and they started dating. Mary Lou was from Twin Falls, Idaho, and was attending the Kaiser School of Nursing in Oakland. After four months he propose. They were married August 29, 1959. This past summer they celebrated their 60th anniversary with friends and family.

Frank reluctantly finished his time in the Corp. He felt he could have had a great life in the military but a young Mary Lou would have no part of it. With his wife working at the Oakland Kaiser, Frank started taking classes at Oakland Community College. While attending Oakland CC he realized school was very difficult and his hit and miss high school education did not prepare him for a higher level.

With this realization Frank became an intense student. He studied day and night. He challenged himself to be the best in every class.

After his time at the community college he transferred into San Francisco State. At SF State he was a member of both the wrestling and baseball teams. He graduated from SF State in 1963 with his bachelors degree.

Years later he was inducted into the San Francisco State Athletic Hall of Fame for his athletic and academic accolades. Through the years his education was very important to him and he taught his student athletes to take their education seriously as an education cannot be taken from you.

Each year the teams were reminded, do you want to serve or be served? His education didn’t end at SF State. Later in his life he would achieve his Masters, Teaching Credentials and Secondary Administrative Credential.

After SF State Frank applied and got a job as a teacher/coach at Ceres High School, a small school near Modesto in Central California. While at Ceres he began his coaching career, unaware of how this decision would forever change his life. Frank Cheek became Coach Cheek. 

While coaching wrestling at Ceres, the weekend of their big tournament, Mary Lou was at the hospital delivering their daughter Teresa Maria. Frank made it there for the delivery and sat in the waiting room as instructed. The nurse came out to tell him he was the father of a baby boy. He was elated! Then she corrected herself and let him know he was the father to a baby girl. Who would have known this baby girl would influence his coaching career much later in his life.

Coach spent five years at Ceres High School.  In that time he built a team that won three consecutive section titles and a No. 1 ranking in the state of California. A former wrestler, Ed Spears, from Ceres was wrestling at a small college in Northern California. He encouraged Coach Cheek to apply for the wrestling coach position at Humboldt State. Due to his extra educational credentials and success at the high school level he was hired in 1969.

With his daughter and dog in a VW Bug he travelled to Arcata, bought a house for $19,100 in Pacific Manor and began his job at HSU.  After selling the house in Ceres, Mary Lou joined him and started working a few blocks away at Mad River Hospital.

Coach Cheek was the HSU wrestling coach for 22 years. During this time he was on the schedule of every wrestling team on the west coast. Humboldt was a force on the wrestling scene. The Lumberjacks consistently beat teams from schools much larger. Oregon State, University of Oregon and Washington, Berkeley, and Stanford to name just a few.  

He developed, on and off the mat, many All-Americans who became leaders in their own communities. The tree of HSU wrestlers has grown many branches with very deep roots.

Coach Cheek grew up with his love of baseball and was very active on the local fast pitch softball scene. He played fastpitch softball many nights a week. He enjoyed the strategy and finesse of pitching. He could tell stories of those nights and the men he played for and against. It was truly a fun time in his life.

While Coach was busy at HSU, his daughter Teresa was growing up and was playing three sports in the HDN for Arcata High. Arcata was blessed with a strong group of female athletes and in 1983 the softball team won the league.  The following year the school was unable to find a coach for the team. Coach Cheek along with his former wrestler and assistant coach at HSU, Eric Woolsey, began coaching girls softball at Arcata High. 

Their first season they won the league and were undefeated. The following season the team won league and finished as the No. 1 rated team in California by Cal High Sports.  Teresa went on to play at Sonoma State and Coach continued coaching and dominated the local high school scene. He coached HSU wrestlers in the winter and high school girls in the spring.

In 1987 HSU was facing a decision to add a women’s sport to equal out their Title IX numbers. Rather than opening up a search, they hired a guy they already had on staff that had success at the high school level.  

In 1988 at the age of 50 Coach Cheek became the head softball coach at Humboldt State University.  

His softball knowledge was limited but his coaching and recruiting ability was excellent.  He knew that you have to have the horses and recruiting is the name of the game.  

He spent the summer recruiting a new team of 12 athletes. He persuaded his daughter, Teresa, to come home to pitch and then recruited a group of local athletes mixed with JC transfers to complete the team.  

This young team was molded and drilled into shape Coach Cheek style. He believed hard work was the key to success. In their first year this team dethroned UC Davis as conference champions and gave Coach Cheek his first of 19 league championships. Coach Cheek caught the softball bug.

He continued his coaching into 1990 by continuing to coach the wrestlers through the winter and softball in the spring. This included a full fall workout/practice through the fall.  

He would leave three hours of softball from 12-3 to join his wrestlers for practice from 3-6.   His stamina and love of coaching would put Humboldt State on the map within the college athletic community.  

In their second season, HSU repeated as league champions and made their first appearance in the four-team West Region bracket. This was the beginning of the the juggernaut of Humboldt State softball.

In August prior to the 1990 season and two weeks before the semester was due to start, the wrestling program was dropped at Humboldt. Coach went to administration and offered to pay for the season so his returning and recruited athletes could have a season.  His love for his athletes ran very deep.   Unfortunately he was unable to persuade administration so his new hobby of coaching softball became his main focus.

He began reading, watching and talking to other coaches, determined to learn all he could about softball. This intense man had a unique coaching style which cannot be found in a textbook. He would push each athlete to their true potential, regardless of sex.  

Consequently he is in the National Fast Pitch and National Wrestling Coaches Hall of Fame. Coach’s accolades are vast. His record 1,148 softball wins, added to his 250 teams wins in wrestling produced 46 NCAA All-Americans.

After 25 years of coaching softball, at the age of 75, Coach retired from Humboldt State and his coaching job.  He felt Joe Paterno was a lucky man who passed away soon after retiring, he didn’t have to live without coaching.

Coaching was in his blood, he really couldn’t imagine his life without coaching.

As always Coach adjusted. He filled his time with his wife. He and Mary Lou enjoyed eating out, which always led to running into community friends. Together they enjoyed going to church every Sunday. He even tried gardening.

One constant through their lives was spending their summers at their cabin in Trinity Center. They built the cabin in 1975 and spent any spare time they could find there. Summers were full of sunny days on the lake and evening of playing games and family barbeques. With coach every game was intense. He made Candyland a serious game with bets. Everyone who knows him shutters at his victory laugh, huh-huh-huh, like taking candy away from a baby? Want to go double or nothing?

In 2016 his daughter returned to Humboldt County and began coaching at CR. Through her he was back talking about softball and guiding her in the coaching world. In 2018 Teresa became the softball coach at Arcata High and he was of course her assistant. He attended every practice and game possible.  He was able to guide these young ladies and motivate them to be their best. At the age of 82, he was back on the field. Unfortunately the Covid-19 pandemic brought high school sports to a halt.

Coach drifted away from us May 30, 2020. He was excited his grandson, Sean, was coming to the Trinity Lake cabin. He drove himself to the cabin, stopping to get a load of gravel for the property. He associated the cabin with work, and getting things done. Summer at the cabin entailed cold watermelon. A cold watermelon was near the top of his favorite food list.  

The morning of the 30th he had a breakfast of cold watermelon. Surrounded by his grandson and wife watching the morning news he took his last nap in his chair. He left our world to heaven quietly in his sleep peacefully.

Coach is preceded in death by his parents, Floyd and Alberta Cheek, his sisters Delores and Darlene, and his brothers Bob and Gary Cheek. He is survived by his wife, Mary Lou Cheek, daughter Teresa, and grandson Sean.  It also can be said he is survived by each and every athlete he has assisted as he believed they were all his family.

The Cheek family would like to acknowledge the following:

Thank you to Humboldt State University for hiring this young bold coach in 1969. HSU provided the support and platform needed for him to excel with his coaching addiction. At Humboldt he was able to “build character and eliminate those that don’t have any,” … “Winning is everything,” … “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”  Coaching is all he ever knew.

Thank you to Tom Trepiak for spending endless hours talking and recording Coach’s stories and memories. Tom took those recordings and produced a book, No Holds Barred, Frank Cheeks Life Story, published just this year. This book allows you to see life from Coach’s eyes.

A special thanks to Dr. Christopher Lee, Charmaine Mosher NP, Dr. Allen Mathew, Dr. Robert Locke, and Dr. Kelly Kinsley for their long hours and compassion.

Thank you to the Trinity Mortuary in Weaverville for their kindness and patience through these past difficult weeks.

Lastly, thank you to the Arcata First Baptist Church for opening their doors to allow us to Celebrate Coach Cheeks life. They have gone over and above to be sure anyone who wants to attend can join.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday June 27, 2020 starting at 2 p.m. at the Arcata First Baptist Church located at 1700 Union St.  Due to the Covid restrictions 100 people will be allowed into the sanctuary with a overflow room of 100 more seats. Masks and Social Distancing will be required.

Humboldt State University will stream the event live on their athletics webpage (hsujacks.com), Facebook (Humboldt State Lumberjacks), Twitter (@HSUJacks), Instagram (hsujacks) and the CCAA website (www.ccaanetwork.com/hsu).

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