Herb Ivory couldn’t think of a more fitting last day.
The longtime principal at Ferndale High School was on hand Friday afternoon when former Ferndale football coach Frank Joranko, for whom Ivory played in the mid-60s, donated his 1972 Coach of the Year award to the school.
“This is a real honor,” said Ivory, who is retiring after 40 years in the district. “For Joranko to even consider to donate something like this, his Coach of the Year award, people don’t give these up. I know I wouldn’t. It’s the highest honor and there’s no better way to go out.”
Joranko coached the Eagles football team from 1961-73. He played football for Albion College and was the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s MVP in 1951. After serving in the Army, he became an assistant coach in Ohio.
He moved to Michigan to teach and coach at Dondero High School in Royal Oak for four years before being offered his first head coaching job at Ferndale.
“I had a headache every day, in preseason and practice. My wife said you can’t be a head coach,” Joranko said. “We scrimmaged the Detroit Catholic school U of D and the first play Dorie Reid went 80 yards for a touchdown. I realized I had the state sprint champion (on the team) and I didn’t have a headache the rest of the year.”
During his tenure, Joranko led the Eagles to three undefeated seasons, including a 9-0 title run in 1972.
There was no playoff system at the time, but writers voted Ferndale as the state’s top team and Joranko was given Coach of the Year honors.
“The whole season was just beautiful,” Joranko said.
The donated award will be prominently displayed alongside the championship trophy from that year in the hallway outside the gymnasium.
“It’s really cool,” Athletic Director Shaun Butler said. “Where the state championship trophies are there’s the picture of the team and the players. At basketball games, there will be people who say my uncle played here or that’s my cousin.”
Joranko and his wife Joyce were joined at the presentation by two of his former assistant coaches, Nick Midea and Bob Goralczyk. Along with Ivory, the group represented a quarter of Ferndale’s Coaching Hall of Fame.
“It’s like 1,000 years of experience,” Butler said, joking.
The group reminisced and shared stories, including their memories from the championship season. Joranko had a quick answer for his favorite 1972 memory.
“Winning the last game,” he said, smiling.
Ferndale faced tough competition that year from teams such as East Detroit and Port Huron Northern. Joranko remembered how the Eagles ended the year with wins over the two schools in the season’s closest games.
The following year Joranko accepted a position with his alma mater Albion to be the school’s football and baseball coach.
“It was the toughest decision in my life,” Joranko said. “We really loved Ferndale and we were all very close.”
Even his wife was upset at the time. “I was really mad at him,” Joyce Joranko said. “Friday night football is so much more fun than Saturday afternoon football, it just wasn’t the same.”
Joranko went on to have great success, winning two MIAA football championships and nine in baseball at Albion. He retired with more than 300 career victories on the diamond and spent more than two decades as the college’s athletic director.