From the time he was a small child, Frank Thiessen wanted to be a doctor.
That desire — “I remember as far back as about 3 years old running around with a medicine kit,” Thiessen said — did not change as he worked his way through Wasco High and Fresno State.
But in June of 1960, Thiessen came upon one of the many crossroads in life.
“I was accepted into USC Medical School but I had also become pretty successful in tennis," he said. "On June 6 I decided I wasn’t going to be a doctor anymore.”
Instead, Thiessen went out on the pro tennis circuit for a couple of years before getting a phone call informing him of an opening to teach and coach various sports, including tennis, at Fowler High.
Thiessen took that job in 1962 and has been teaching and coaching ever since.
We’ll never know what type of doctor Thiessen would have been, but his decision to coach was a good one nonetheless. Thiessen has won more than 1,300 games as a coach, with nearly 1,200 of those victories coming in tennis.
Thiessen, who still coaches today at age 79, will be inducted into the Bob Elias Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 21 at the Marriott Hotel. He will be joined by former major league pitcher Colby Lewis, former Wasco track and field coach Andy Darby, and former Garces and Tehachapi football coach Gary Ogilvie.
“This is hard to imagine that I would even be thought of as going into the Hall of Fame, look at all the people in there,” Thiessen said.
The induction into the Hall of Fame is another honor among many for Thiessen, who has been named Kern County teacher of the year, California teacher of the year, and California tennis coach of the year at various stages of his career.
“Sometimes I wonder what have I really done to get all the awards?” he said. “All I try to do is the best job I can in whatever I do.”
Thiessen taught and coached at Wasco from 1965-2003 where his tennis teams went 622-124-3 with 10 Central Section championships.
“If you go back to 1929, Wasco won state titles, there’s always been a tradition of tennis in Wasco,” Thiessen said. “We started kids (in tennis programs) in fifth or sixth grade and they came through the whole program and I know that’s why we had success. Plus, I always had good athletes. I’d say 15 percent or more of the players went on to college to play on scholarships.”
Thiessen moved to Bakersfield Christian High School in 2004 and since then his boys tennis teams have gone 264-52-2 with 11 section titles. His girls tennis teams have gone 302-48-2 with 12 straight section titles from 2005-2016.
“We have been very successful (at BCHS),” Thiessen said. “Right now were are in Division I and our kids play at that level. You have to have players with that ability to do well.”
Thiessen retired from full-time teaching last year but continues to coach the boys and girls tennis teams at BCHS as well as girls basketball.
“I don’t feel like I’m 79 years old,” he said of why he continues to coach. “I still do my running and am very, very active. Also, with all the success I’ve had and with the players and programs I’ve been with I just enjoy what I’m doing.
“If I can’t do what's needed to be done then I need to quit.”
Thiessen said he took his first tennis lesson with Hank Pfister Sr. when he was 10 or 11 years old and has been playing ever since.
“I hit with the kids at practice, do drills with them. That’s the way I’ve alway been,” he said. “I have ball machines, too, but we do a lot of drills.
“I really think tennis is one of the toughest sports to coach (because) it’s an individual sport and so much individual work has to be done. You have to be able to look at individuals and see where they are and where they need to be.”
And like all of the other coaches being inducted into the HOF this year, Thiessen said it is the athletes that have made coaching so rewarding.
“I’ve been blessed with good athletes,” he said. “I’ve had some very good players. Some of the best in the valley at both Wasco and Bakersfield Christian.”