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updated: 1/22/2014 1:41 PM

Soccer supporter Workman also fought for gender equity

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By Mike Miazga
Daily Herald Correspondent

When Tim Brieger first started at St. Edward as soccer coach, he recalled a conversation he had with Frank Workman.

"We used to practice at Kimball Middle School," said Brieger, the only boys' and girls' soccer coach the school has had. "Frank said why don't you come out and practice at the Toastmaster fields (that used to be visible from Interstate 90 and are now part of a housing development). He was a guy who was always looking to help people by getting better places to practice or helping you line the fields or getting new equipment for the kids."

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Stories such as that have been in abundance since word broke that Workman, a longtime advocate of youth soccer in Elgin and a champion of gender equality in youth sports, died in late December in his Elgin residence. He was believed to be in his early 80s at the time of his death.

"Frank was so amazing with what he did for kids," said Brieger. "People have been telling a lot of stories. Facebook has been blowing up with memories people had of Frank. He would use his own money for uniforms and went out of his way to find coaches for teams. He would help kids pay for league fees. He used to line the fields for us at St. Ed's. If a team needed new practice equipment or a game field, all you would have to do is get ahold of Frank and Frank would get it taken care of. No matter where you were it seemed like you always would see Frank whether it was at the Elgin Sports Complex, St. Ed's or Elgin or Larkin. He was always there to help. It was never about him.

"Frank Workman was amazing."

Brieger also recalled the generosity Workman showed when Brieger started a club team with former Larkin coach Rick Schuster.

"Frank bought us uniforms to help us get off the ground," said Brieger. "He never wanted credit. He was always quiet about what he did. You would see him at a game and then turn around and he would disappear. Soccer was the love of his life. It was all about the kids for Frank."

Schuster remembered a time when a U9 player couldn't afford goalie gloves and a jersey.

"Frank bought him gloves and a jersey. His eyes lit up when he gave it to him," said Schuster.

Schuster also related a conversation where Workman told him he bought former Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas his first part of shoes.

"Frank was generous with everything," said Schuster, who now runs a club program based out of Sleepy Hollow (Fox Valley Bayern Munich). "He did so much and never asked for anything in return. He had an account set up at the soccer shop on Randall Road. If you needed something he would say just put in on my account. When I was at Larkin he showed up one day with six soccer balls."

Katie Zurek, who played for Brieger at St. Edward and graduated from there in 2001, also has fond memories of Workman. Zurek is now a teacher in Huntley.

"If you played soccer in Elgin, you knew Frank," she said. "He always was at the sports complex. He just loved soccer. Frank helped with coaching my team for a couple years. He was extremely generous. He bought us uniforms and found us places to play. He truly loved the game and everyone who played it."

Workman also was a staunch supporter of gender equity, going so far as to bring litigation against the Illinois High School Association on the subject.

"Frank was very big in getting girls soccer recognized by the IHSA," said Brieger. "He wanted to make sure girls got equal time on the field in high school and had the same opportunities to play for a state championship as the boys did. He was a champion for equality. He put a lot of time and energy into helping give girls a chance to succeed."

Schuster added: "Frank was not very well-liked by some people because he was very supportive of female soccer and he sued the IHSA so girls could have things like the same size locker rooms as boys. He was very influential in girls' soccer becoming an IHSA sport."

Jim Spangler, a veteran of the youth soccer scene in Elgin, noted Workman scored big victories in the gender equity arena.

"As Frank went along he tried to move the needle in a more positive direction in terms of equity in soccer," said Spangler. "He went against some of the establishment to try and get things resolved and I think he won out over the years. He was still working on issues up until his passing."

Zurek added: "Frank was passionate about the girls having an equal playing field to the boys."

Workman also was very mindful of the role academics played in an athlete's life. He was outspoken about the issue of academic eligibility in the late 1980s regarding a controversial "no pass no play" legislative bill that sought to toughen academic standards for high-school athletes.

"Any high-school principal who would oppose this legislation is an insult to the people of this state," Workman was quoted in a 1987 Chicago Tribune story.

Workman also played a key role in the formation of the Elgin Kickers organization, which at the time of its formation was a quasi-offshoot of the Chicago Kickers club.

"Frank was part of the very beginning of the Elgin Kickers," said Spangler. "The Elgin Kickers forming was mainly due to Frank being involved and bringing the Kickers to Elgin."

Spangler is helping spearhead efforts to give Workman a proper remembrance. Workman's body remains at the Cook County Coroner's office, having not yet been claimed by a family member. Spangler also is working to obtain Workman's military service record (DD 214 form). Spangler said Workman was a Korean War era veteran who later worked as a professional engineer for Abbott Laboratories and ComEd.

"He used his engineering skills to make sure fields were level and square," said Spangler, who noted a memorial celebration to honor Workman will be held in the near future.

Spangler said Workman left behind a giant legacy in the city.

"Frank kept things above board and kept everything going along smoothly," said Spangler. "He made sure there were many opportunities for kids to have a chance to play.

"The city of Elgin definitely benefitted a lot from Frank Workman."

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