Somewhere, mixed in with all the championships and success on the court, hardwood and gridiron, it was Frank Thiessen’s character that stood out.
He showcased that attribute for more than 50 years as a high school tennis, football and girls basketball coach, first at Wasco and later at Bakersfield Christian.
Thiessen died Tuesday night. He was 81.
“I think if you were to talk to just about anybody, they would agree that he was one of the most caring people they ever met,” said Rod Wallace, who played football, basketball and tennis for Thiessen at Wasco in the mid-1970s. “He was a great motivator. He could motivate you on the playing field, he could motivate you in the classroom. He had a way of getting into your head and making you believe you could do anything if you set your mind to it.”
Thiessen left such a lasting impression on Wallace that the former student sought out his teacher several times during the next 40 years.
When Wallace returned to Wasco as its head football coach in 1985, Thiessen was the first person he called to be his assistant. When Wallace’s son, Chris, an aspiring tennis player, graduated from junior high, Wallace enrolled him at Bakersfield Christian so he could play for Thiessen.
Heck, Thiessen was even a groomsmen in Wallace’s wedding when he and his wife Sheri married.
“He was a legend,” said Sheri, who served as Thiessen’s assistant tennis coach for four years. “He had so much success. He was an intense coach who pushed his players to be the best they could be. He just had a way of communicating and getting the best out of them. They had so much respect for him.”
A Wasco native, Thiessen attended Fresno State and was accepted into USC Medical School with plans of studying to be a doctor in 1960.
Instead, Thiessen went out on the pro tennis circuit for a couple of years before accepting a teaching position and coaching various sports, including tennis, at Fowler High.
Thiessen took that job in 1962, starting a career that spanned nearly six decades. He retired as a coach in 2018.
“He had so much passion for what he did,” said Blake Van Der Schaaf, Bakersfield Christian athletic director the past eight years. “He made a difference in so many people’s lives. He was such a good person. He was such a good sounding board for me and a great mentor for other coaches.”
Thiessen, who was inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Hall of Fame last year, taught and coached at Wasco from 1965 to 2003 where his tennis teams went 622-124-3 with 10 Central Section championships. He moved to BCHS the following year and led the boys and girls tennis teams to a combined 23 more section titles.
“He could teach you the proper technique and give you everything you needed to be successful, but the mental aspect is where he really shined,” Rod Wallace said. “Playing tennis at Wasco (we were often over-matched), but he had a way of giving us that mindset that we could compete with anyone. He just made us believe.”