Photo by Elizabeth Dranitzke

Greg Frane

Greg Frane was one of four men awarded the Capitol Hill Community Foundation's Spark Award in 2016.Through more than 30 years, Greg's roles evolved as did that of SOTH, now known as Sports on the Hill.

In this February, 2016, interview with Stephanie Deutsch, Greg reveals that his involvement with Soccer on the Hill started when his own son was old enough to play, but his inspiration for continuing well beyond his own son's time was an older man who coached Greg's Mighty Mites baseball team during his youth.

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Interview Date
February 22, 2016
Stephanie Deutsch
Monica Servaites
Elizabeth Lewis

Full Directory

[In 2016, the Capitol Hill Community Foundation initiated the Steve Cymrot Spark Award as part of the annual Community Achievement Awards. Group recipients were (from left in the photo): Larry Kaufer, Greg Frane, Patrick Coyne, and Luis Granados. Each was interviewed separately.]

DEUTSCH: Stephanie Deutsch with Greg Frane. Ok. Greg, can you just say hi?

FRANE: Hello there. Hi, Stephanie.

DEUTSCH: Nice live voice. So Greg, where did you grow up?

FRANE: I grew up in Minnesota. Suburb of the Twin Cities.

Since when I was a kid, there weren’t very many organized sports for kids to play, but I did have my share of tossing the ball around with my friends.


FRANE: Was a good thing. I did try out for Little League, though, when I was little, and I didn’t make it at first. They had a kind of back up position for the kids that didn’t make Little League. They had something called Mighty Mites.

DEUTSCH: Mighty Mites?

FRANE: Mighty Mites, yes.

DEUTSCH: How old would you have been?

FRANE: Probably older than I would like to admit to being on the Mighty Mites team. [Laughter] But it was a long time ago. I did eventually make the Little League team, but that was later.

DEUTSCH: So was baseball the big sport that kids played?

FRANE: Yeah, in the wintertime kids liked to play a little bit of hockey because it was Minnesota. It never was much of an established thing. The local rink, they didn’t have time set aside for sports like that. It was just all open time. So there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to do stuff like that. And I was absolutely, completely inept at basketball.

DEUTSCH: [Laughs] So you played Little League for a few years?
FRANE: Well, I played Mighty Mites. See, Mighty Mites is the connection here, and I hadn’t thought

about it for a long time because the guy who coached the Mighty Mite team for me and some of my
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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

friends ... His name was Seaford, as I recall. It was really strange for me to remember something back that long ago. But he was a really, really great old guy.

I remember one day kind of wondering about why he did what he did, because obviously none of these kids were his kids. [Laughter] So I asked him about it. My dad, by the way, he didn’t do sports at all. That was not his thing. And he told me that his children were grown and that he liked to do it just because he enjoyed doing it. And I was really, really impressed by that, and I was impressed by two things: one is that he was an older person and he really enjoyed doing it [unintelligible] the way it is, which I really never went into before. And the other thing was that he just seemed like a really, really great guy. And I always remember him for some reason.

I think maybe when I came to the Hill that I had a little bit of that memory in my mind when I thought about starting and coaching and doing things with kids. Somewhere in the back of my mind was this guy, Mr. Seaford, who had been so good to me as a little kid. Not playing on the Little League team now, playing with ... He was the coach of the team for the kids who didn’t make their Little League team. [Laughs]

DEUTSCH: So what brought you to Washington?

FRANE: My dad got a new job. He used to manage refrigerator warehouses and he got a new job in New Jersey. Where I went to high school. And when I went to college, I went to University of Virginia, and that put that me closer to Washington, D.C. And when I graduated ...

DEUTSCH: What did you study in college?
FRANE: Marketing. Business. Washington was the logical place to go shopping for a job. And so I came

to Washington and I got a job eventually.DEUTSCH: What did you do?

FRANE: I was what they called a budget analyst at the time. They later changed the title to program analyst but basically I worked on budgets.

DEUTSCH: On the Hill?
FRANE: Not for the Hill. I worked for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. You remember

that? [Laughs]
DEUTSCH: I remember that.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

FRANE: Yes, when it broke up, I went with the education side of it.DEUTSCH: Then you moved to the Hill?

FRANE: My wife and I rented on the Hill. By mutual agreement, we decided that before we would try and have children, we would wait three years. Because we wanted to make sure that we had a good chance of being compatible before we had children. Then we had a daughter and a couple of years later, a son.

DEUTSCH: And so when did the sports kick in?
FRANE: Well, that kind of evolved. Probably was a two-stage process, at least. The first thing was

deciding that we wanted to stay on the Hill, because when we first came here ...DEUTSCH: The whole school thing?

FRANE: Well, school [was] not so much a thing because my wife got a job here too. And so we were making enough money so that school wasn’t a big concern for us because education was real important and we were willing to spend for more things that educate you. But early on, the thing that convinced us that we should stay on the Hill—because our original plan was to move off the Hill when we had children—was the fact that we had neighbors that had children. And they had lived on the Hill for several years. The guy worked for Congress and was very close to Congress so they had strong reasons for staying.

DEUTSCH: Of course, yeah.
FRANE: But the kids—we really liked the kids, and the kids seemed to be okay kids. So we figured we’d

give it a try. And we did. We bought a house and we’ve lived there ever since.DEUTSCH: Mass. Ave. right?
FRANE: What?
DEUTSCH: Massachusetts Avenue?

FRANE: Yeah, that’s where we moved to, yeah.

DEUTSCH: Okay, so now you’re going to stay on the Hill.

FRANE: Yep, as my son got older ... My daughter was not interested in sports, but as my son got older ... Actually my wife, I think, decided that he needed to get some exercise. He had little attention deficit

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

type problems and she figured, I think, that he would burn up some of this excess energy that he had. She went and signed him up for the Soccer on the Hill program. Much over my objections.

DEUTSCH: Why did you object?

FRANE: Well, I thought that it would be confusing for him, with all the running around on the field and playing games like this. Because he was having so much trouble focusing on things, that that was the last environment that he needed to be in. That was before I went to the Department of Education and worked with programs with kids with disabilities. [Laughs]

DEUTSCH: [Laughs] So who was right?
FRANE: Well, my wife turned out to be correct in the end because he really got a lot out of the soccer,

and he went on and he was a very good soccer player.

DEUTSCH: What is his name?

FRANE: Alex. Alexander. But the place where he practiced originally was down the side of the current Indian Museum, down on the Mall. Which was really good for me because I worked just a couple blocks from there and I could go out and I could help. And within a few weeks after helping coach, the coach said, “Well, I can’t do this anymore so I need somebody to step in.” And so I became the coach. This is a common technique I found out. [Laughs]

DEUTSCH: Right. [Laughs]
FRANE: Used it many times myself and had it used on me.DEUTSCH: So you became the coach and ...

FRANE: So I became the coach and I just had the greatest time with it. It’s hard to explain how naïve I was. It’s just ... I thought that my kids were the best kids in the whole world and they were the best soccer players ...

DEUTSCH: By “my kids” you mean your team?

FRANE: My team, yeah. They were the best team. Best kids in the whole world. And they played the best soccer and, you know, they were just super. I didn’t understand why we lost as much as we did sometimes [laughter] because it was inconsistent with my perception that we were always playing better than the other team. But it turned out to be true. [Laughs] As I coached more and more, I got a more realistic perception of what things are like.

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DEUTSCH: More realistic.

FRANE: Yeah, eventually realized actually, that there was a whole lot of people that were better coaches than I am and I could actually help kids a lot more doing other things lots of times. That’s what I do mostly now. Why I do it.

DEUTSCH: So you coached for awhile and then ...

FRANE: Well, there’s another little story there. [Laughs] What happened when my son went from Under-8s to Under-10s [teams are based on the age of the player]. I went up with him but then he decided that he didn’t want me to coach him anymore. This sometimes happens with kids. I haven’t held it against him too much over the years. [Laughter]

DEUTSCH: That’s good of you.

FRANE: Uh huh, I thought so. But I still really, really liked the kids, so I figured if I wasn’t maybe as good at Under-10s as I would like to be, I went back and I did Under-8s for a few years. Several years, I don’t know how many years, but a long time. Enough so that I coached Larry Kaufer’s son when he was Under-8. Of course, he doesn’t remember that. Kids when they’re under eight don’t remember a lot of things. My son, though, he progressed and went on, and eventually we began to find out more about things called “travel teams.” And so he got pulled into the travel team world.

DEUTSCH: That must have been just at the beginning of when we got travel?
FRANE: It was around from ... long time. It must have been around when we started, but we didn’t

know anybody. We were on Capitol Hill. We were pretty isolated from other people.DEUTSCH: Yeah, yeah.

FRANE: It’s like, “What’s happening in the outside world?” But everything was much smaller. Much, much smaller scale it was then.

DEUTSCH: So he got to be a good soccer player and kept with it?
FRANE: And yeah, a lot of the kids did that. Some of the kids that I coached became coaches. [Laughs]

Professional. Nothing because of anything I did though. [Laughs]

But what happened one time is ... This may not be a good thing to talk about in some ways, but it got to the point where I really was thinking about the kids that I was working with all the time, and his stuff was always ... It cost a lot of money to do the travel thing, relatively speaking, and it took an enormous

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

amount of time because they’re travel teams and you go out. You go this place or that place or this tournament or that tournament. It was a significant amount of money.

A few years later—not a long time, couldn’t have been a long time—I got a call from this kid who lived up in Columbia Heights area and he really, really wanted to play with Soccer on the Hill. That’s a long way from here. He was so earnest. This was a time when I was the registrar in addition to other things. He was just so adamant about it that I said, “Well, you want to do this so bad, I will make sure that you get a chance to play.”

DEUTSCH: Was he an Under-8?

FRANE: No, no, he was older by this time. This was getting to the time when I realized that, you know, there’s a lot of people that can do this job better than I can. I may have been coaching Under-8 at the time. I can’t remember, but it changed what I did in a big way because before I picked him up, he called me and he said, “Can I bring a couple of my friends?” Well, you can see where this story is going. At that time we had a pretty big car. We had a Chevy Suburban. When I got to his house, it filled the car with kids. Then I had to get a coach because he had a whole team. So I was able to do that ...

DEUTSCH: And he wanted to play with Soccer on the Hill because there wasn’t an equivalent thing in his neighborhood?

FRANE: Well, there wasn’t anything in his neighborhood by a long way. But he was much closer to Stoddert up in Northwest Washington, and that’s where I advised him to go in the first place. But he, for some reason, didn’t go along with it. As I began to think about it, it could have waited. I said, “Well, here my wife and I are both taking my son to his games. And they’re way over there and they’re travel and we’re paying all this money to do it.” I did the math, arithmetic, and I realized I could do a whole team of these kids for what it took for my kid to play where he was playing. After that I began doing more and more things with people like that.

DEUTSCH: Bringing more kids in?
FRANE: Bringing more kids in, yeah. I think that pretty much runs the thread of the whole thing. The

idea of the beginning, and then the evolution and then where I wound up.DEUTSCH: Yeah, starting with your own child and then branched out.FRANE: Because of my wife. Don’t forget that.
DEUTSCH: Because of your wife. Jean.

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

FRANE: Yes, Jean.
DEUTSCH: Along the way you learned to referee? You became a referee ...?

FRANE: Yeah, well, in the early days I could get away with refereeing without actually being a real referee. I just faked it and then finally I got ... I was never a very good referee, I’m still not a very good referee. I couldn’t fake it anymore so I had to become a referee.

DEUTSCH: Which involves taking a training course ...FRANE: Training course, yeah, uh huh.
DEUTSCH: So now your son must be in his 30s.FRANE: 40.

DEUTSCH: Does he still play sports?
FRANE: No, not so much anymore. He’s more into doing more outdoorsy stuff and traveling.

DEUTSCH: But you’re still ... do you get out on the field anymore? Are you still registrar? What’s your role now?

FRANE: Like I said, I do various odd jobs. I help do the wrestling program in the winter time.DEUTSCH: Help coaching wrestling?

FRANE: No, no. I had to do that one year. That was really bad. My wrestling experience was limited to junior year in high school. That was not a very good basis. [Laughs] All the rules have changed.

DEUTSCH: Right. [Laughs]
FRANE: Right now we’ve got really good, cool guys who’re doing the wrestling thing. The dads. That’s

one of the really nice things about Sports on the Hill—that it’s a volunteer organization.DEUTSCH: Yeah.

FRANE: It’s working with the kids and teaching the kids things. It’s because the parents are so involved in the actual activities of the kids [that] the parents are learning along the way too. Sort of a baptism of fire sometimes. You know, your five-year-old winds up out there, particularly over at Providence Park, and you say, well, “Who’s going to volunteer to be the coach here?” [Laughs]

DEUTSCH: Right. [Laughs] “Yeah, come on folks.”

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

FRANE: Yeah, “Come on folks.” Larry’s much better at that than I am. I’m too shy about asking people to do things. But it throws them right into the pot. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but most of the time it works. People step up to it and they learn a lot from the process of kind of working with their kids and working with other people’s kids.

DEUTSCH: How often do you have meetings—you and the other guys who are getting the award? Do you meet together or ...?

FRANE: Yes. Periodically, as the occasion arises.
DEUTSCH: And do you still do the equipment?
FRANE: Oh, yeah. Uh huh.
DEUTSCH: People drop off the used shoes at your house and you ...?

FRANE: Well, actually the used shoe business isn’t as good as it used to be. Back in the old days, I used to be able to use almost all of the used shoes that I got. But nowadays, the world’s a little bit more affluent every place. It’s a better world in a lot of ways than it used to be back then. So there’s not as much demand for shoes as there once was. I think one of the other things is the price on the shoes has probably gone down, too.

DEUTSCH: Uh huh.

FRANE: So they’re more reachable for kids. Shoes used to be really important. I remember one kid who came with this batch of kids from Columbia Heights. I was taking the kids to the game one time and after I came home, dropped off the kids—it was late at night, like 9:00 or something—and I got a call from him. He said, “I left my shoes in your car.” I said, “Well, okay, next time at practice you can pick up your shoes again.” Right, that’s logical. And he said, “You don’t understand. I only have two pairs of shoes.” He had his cleats and he had his other shoes. And he said, “I can’t wear my cleats to school.” So I had ...

DEUTSCH: Oh, he left his other shoes ...
FRANE: He left his other shoes in my car. So I had to drive back to his house so he could have real shoes

to go to school with. Yeah, but that was getting to be a long time ago now. Things are much better.DEUTSCH: Yeah, so you don’t have the shoes in the basement?

FRANE: No. Once in a while when I get big shoes, I can get a good use for the shoes. I still have a couple boxes of school shoes just in case. [Laughs]

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DEUTSCH: [Laughs] And shin guards and all that?

FRANE: And shin guards and standard equipment, yes. But that’s part of the philosophy of the organization. As we began maturing a little bit more and getting more kids, part of making it accessible to people is making sure that they had all the stuff that they needed to do [it]. When Soccer on the Hill started out, for example, there was a rule that we had that you could not wear cleats. Because if you’ve ever been kicked with cleats, you know that they hurt a lot. Since the kids didn’t have shin guards and we didn’t want anyone to get hurt, you couldn’t wear cleats. You had to wear soft shoes. So then we got into cleats and then you’ve got to have shin guards and how do you make sure that all the kids have got shin guards? That it doesn’t become a burden on them to get? Even if most of the kids could afford it, you don’t want to put any kids in the situation were it’s going to be a detriment to them playing.


FRANE: And same thing with the shorts. I’m not sure if we bought shorts at the beginning either. I don’t think we did. We just bought shirts for the kids. And now we stock ... We got cones and balls—we always had balls—and ball bags and disks and Pugg goals and [unintelligible] balls, and all kinds of stuff. [Laughs] My basement is pretty full. Just ask my wife. [Laughs]

DEUTSCH: Right. [Laughs] I’m not surprised. You said something about making it accessible. I feel that has been one of the philosophies of Soccer on the Hill or Sports on the Hill. To try and make sure that everybody can participate. Everybody who wants to.

FRANE: Yeah. I really have incredible admiration for the people who are the original founding fathers and a lot of the people that I worked with in the early days, because the Hill, as you know, was a much different kind of place then. If you lived in a place and you could do things with your kid and you wanted your kid to do something, there were the other neighborhood kids there. They didn’t have as many opportunities and I think that it was more natural. People had a tendency to reach out to the kids that were around them and try to help them too. The things that people did back in those days to help kids who really needed help ... to me are just absolutely amazing what they did.

DEUTSCH: Yeah. Bringing the other kids ...
FRANE: Bringing the other kids along, yeah. People are still good nowadays, but they move to the Hill

for different reasons and so ...
DEUTSCH: The community is different ...

Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

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Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project Greg Frane Interview, February 21, 2016

FRANE: ... the community is different. Yeah, that’s a good way to describe it. It’s so different that I had a neighbor that lived next door to us for a few years. They’ve been gone for, what, a year now? And they had moved to Capitol Hill because they thought it was like it was in the old days and then they got here and found out that it wasn’t like that at all. [Laughs] And so they moved out someplace else.

DEUTSCH: Right. Now it’s the affluent neighborhood. Who knew?
FRANE: Yeah, that’s right. It was always kind of creeping along but all of sudden, whoosh, it just like

changed a whole lot.

DEUTSCH: Are you going to just keep doing this until they beat you away or do you have any plans to retire from ...?

FRANE: No, no, what I probably should do is scale back because I’m not as good at doing things. I’m not particularly adept at doing the things even that I do. It’s just that you don’t find many people that want to manage equipment. There’s no competition for the job. It’s a good thing, though, it gives me a lot of satisfaction. And with some of the things that I do, I don’t really have to do very much. Maybe I just drive the car and watch the kids’ games and cheer when they do stuff.

DEUTSCH: That’s fun.
FRANE: And that’s fun, yes.
DEUTSCH: Are you a big sports fan in terms of professional sports?

FRANE: I am kind of an anti-fan in terms of professional sports. I don’t like professional sports. What it does to the sport basically. I think it brings out the worst in things. I remember reading something not too long ago on soccer. Somebody was writing about how we need in the United States to upgrade our soccer instructions and do more drills and training, less games, because if we don’t start women in national games then kids are going to lose interest in the sport. That’s not it at all! You know, kids play a sport ...

DEUTSCH: Takes away the fun.

FRANE: Yeah, takes away the fun and the real benefit. A lot of times, it’s people who are professionals. They’re professionals. They make their living off of it so it’s a different kind of environment that they live in. They try to be, I think, good, but it’s difficult when you rely on something as a profession to do always what might otherwise be the right thing. Another sad thing the same article said is that kids do more drills than they do playing soccer.

DEUTSCH: Nowadays?

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FRANE: Well, yeah, that’s not really true. It’s because when people look at it, they’re professionals and they’re looking at it. And what are they looking at? They’re looking at people like travel team people or even us and our teams and stuff like that. They’re not looking at the kids at recess, running around, kicking the ball in the yard. Or the first kids that I had all were from El Salvador except for Nicaragua— they talk all the time about what they did back in El Salvador. They weren’t talking about doing drills. They were out there every chance they got and they were just kicking the ball around, playing, and having fun. That’s what the things that are important are. Professional sports, they just kind of mess up the whole fun of it. I know it’s got a lot of hype and stuff like that but I don’t think that’s where things should really be at.

DEUTSCH: It’s the fun.

FRANE: Well, it’s the fun and it’s the discipline, the education they get out of it. For some kids, justplaying with other kids sometimes. I remember a team that I had that came from some place that didn’t have sports where they could play, and it was very difficult for them to play games with other kids. If they lost, their inclination was—and this is not just one team, this is other people’s experience with the same kind of kids—they would throw stones at the other team. I mean, this is nasty stuff, the whole thing about ... Even for younger kids, they have to dominate the other people and they do stupid things. They push and they trap and [so on] because I don’t think they’ve ever had a chance to play with other kids the way we like our kids to play with each other. And you can learn from that. It’s not just fun, it’s not games, part of it’s what learning life experience is. I mean, how you act with other people.

DEUTSCH: That’s true.

FRANE: That might be hard on a hockey rink when you’re smashing into people. [Laughs]

DEUTSCH: [Laughs]

FRANE: Got to be a good sportsman. [Laughs]

DEUTSCH: It’s funny. They love it. And my son, who started at five—he’s now coaching.

FRANE: Really? See this is great!

DEUTSCH: Oh yeah. It’s a huge part of his life. I got a little mini hockey stick in there that my grandson bashes around with. [Laughs]

FRANE: [Laughs] Plastic, I hope.DEUTSCH: Oh, no, it’s wood!

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FRANE: Oh really, okay. Well, watch out for your shins! [Laughs]DEUTSCH: For those that take to it, it’s a huge thing.

FRANE: Yeah, I know it’s a lot of work. That and swimming I think [are] some of the most demanding sports.

DEUTSCH: Yeah, swimming is demanding.