Since graduating from Westwood High School in 2008, Alex Frank has built an illustrious athletic and academic career. First, she played NCAA Division 1 lacrosse at Northwestern University, where she helped her team win three national titles. Then she moved into coaching, with stints at Boston College and the University of Colorado. Now she is coaching in the Ivy League at Dartmouth College. So, it was fitting that she would return to Westwood as keynote speaker for the high school’s annual “Call to Excellence” celebration.
“The Call to Excellence program is designed to inspire student athletes and to educate families about the right message and the role sports plays for their children,” said Matthew Gillis, Westwood High School’s Athletic Director.
Call to Excellence night was originally designed for student athletes, but is now open to the entire student body and their parents. In her speech, Frank referenced the quote she used in her yearbook when graduating from Westwood High: “Never underestimate the heart of a champion.” She went on to explain that the quote means something different to her today than it did when she chose it years ago.
“Being a champion has meant a lot more to me than just winning,” said Frank. “What does the heart of a champion look like? It’s being a good teammate, enjoying the process, celebrating the little victories and, above all else, having fun.”
“In addition to speaking to the larger group, I asked Alex to meet with some of our female athletes prior to the event,” Gillis said. “She talked about how to develop leadership skills and then [embrace] their roles as leaders within both their team and the school.”
Frank stressed that having the heart of a champion is not about winning a state title, and shared the story of an extremely challenging time in her coaching career to prove that point.
“We lost one of our seniors in a fatal crash two days before the start of preseason,” Frank recalled. “One of our freshmen then came down with a serious illness and had to be hospitalized two days before our first game. We were so concerned with the players’ well-being, we had discussions on what we should do about the season.”
As it turned out, the Univ. of Colorado Women’s Lacrosse team won the Pac-12 regular season championship that season. Frank credited their success to “communication, hard work, love and support for one another.” Colorado was knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the second round. “From an outsider’s perspective, they may say we were not champions. However, I knew better. Watching a team of 34 players come together and play for more than a trophy in every game showed that each of them had the heart of a champion,” she said.
Gillis has known Frank since she was a sixth-grader and his pride in her accomplishments is evident.
“I tell her every time I see her how happy I am for her,” said Gillis. “I’m just thrilled to pieces that she’s having so much success as a coach and doing exactly what she wants.”
While it’s easy to get caught up in the wins and losses columns while playing a high school sport, that isn’t what Frank wanted the students to remember.
“If you leave with one thing tonight,” said Frank, “it is that you do not have to win the championship to embody the heart of a champion. You can have the heart simply by being the best athlete you can be and having fun along the way.”