Longtime Green Bay Preble coach Jack Drankoff died on Saturday night after a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Drankoff, 67, coached track and field at Preble for 41 years and cross-country for 36 years. He also served as the school’s athletic director from 2005 to 2008.
“He fought right down to the last day with the same determination that he would have expected from any kid doing anything,” said former Preble football and track and field coach Pat Prochnow, who is Drankoff’s best friend. “He had the determination to beat this.”
Drankoff guided his cross-country team to 27 Fox River Valley Conference championships and to the state meet 30 times. In 1984, the Hornets boys team won the state title with a one-point win over defending champion Stevens Point.
“That’s a great memory, but sometimes when we had teams that weren’t expected to win the conference championship or weren’t expected to go to the state meet at all, and we just came up with some fantastic efforts on that particular day,” Drankoff told the Press-Gazette in 2000. “Those memories and those efforts are just as strong as the state one.”
Drankoff had 12 athletes win state titles in track and field, including two that set state records. Preble was the state runner-up in 2005 and 2006.
His contributions never went unnoticed by Preble. They also didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the state.
He was inducted into the Wisconsin Cross Country Hall of Fame in 2000 and into the Wisconsin Track Coaches Hall of Fame in 2008. He also was inducted into Preble’s Hall of Fame in 2010.
“His passion for competition, it was part of the reason why he lasted as long as he did,” said Rod Leadley, who coached with Drankoff. “He just would never give up.
“He really encouraged the kids, no matter what position they were. First or last.”
That Drankoff accomplished so much in the two sports probably shocked him more than anyone. He was told in a memo from the Preble principal after he was hired that he was going to be the school’s cross-country coach.
Drankoff knew nothing about the sport. He actually had hoped to coach basketball. But he went from coaching not only the boys team, but forming the girls team in 1978.
He was a man that his friends felt cared more about everyone else than he did himself. Prochnow’s son was married on Friday, and although Drankoff was down to his final few days, he was more concerned about the wedding and that Prochnow’s son would receive the gift the Drankoff family had bought.
“He truly cared for the kids in every aspect,” Prochnow said. “He was very smart and intelligent. It was more about caring for the kids and achieving greatness. Not just in the arena, but in the classroom and society.
“There are so many people. …We’ve always said to each other how we would get just as big a thrill at a kid graduating high school. He would go to extremes to make sure kids stayed in school and stayed on track. He would go out of his way to help somebody and give them a chance.”