By TOM WILLIAMS
Through the decades there have been athletes at Ocean City High School whose names just go together. They were athletes who played together, complimented each other and whose performances led to success for the Raiders.
There was Tarves and Davis, Leary and Krattenmaker, Foglio and Vanderslice, Lynch and Muzslay, Bryant and Rackley, LeFever and Lipford, Fox and Banks and Picketts and Doto. In recent seasons you could add Nunan and Wallace, Aungst and Lashley, Donoghue and Rolls and Slimmer and Reimet.
But the original combination, back in the mid 1950s, was Kennedy and Wickes.
Joe Kennedy was a four-sport athlete who later played basketball at LaSalle and served more than three decades in the U.S. Navy. Frank Wickes played three sports, continued to play two of them at the University of Delaware and became one of the very best college band directors in the country.
Kennedy and Wickes combined to lead OCHS to its first state championship in basketball, a South Jersey title in track and a Cape-Atlantic League championship in baseball.
Frank Wickes, 82, died last weekend. And Joe Kennedy, a retired Naval Captain who now splits his year between Ocean City and Florida, remembers his former teammate.
“Frank was a smart guy,” Kennedy said, “and a very talented athlete. In basketball, he was a great rebounder and just had a knack for where the ball was going. He also boxed out very well. He was a very good pitcher in baseball – he was left-handed – and was very good at the 880 yard run in track.
“We both pitched on the baseball team but he was a much better pitcher. In my senior year I also joined him on the track team. I ran the 440 and joined him on the mile relay and we won the South Jersey championship.”
In a remarkable bit of scheduling, Dixie Howell’s baseball team and Fenton Carey’s track team never competed on the same day so Kennedy and Wickes could compete on both teams, something that is no longer allowed by the NJSIAA. Kennedy also led the baseball team with a .450 average.
When they graduated from high school in 1955, Kennedy was the school’s all-time leading scorer and Wickes was second. Kennedy is now No. 24 and Wickes No. 38 in career scoring. But Wickes still holds the school records for rebounds in a career and rebounds in a game some 65 years later. In fact, he went on to set the career record for rebounds at Delaware and currently ranks No. 9 among Blue Hen rebounders. In a recent chart on Delaware Online that ranked Delaware’s 50 best basketball players, Wickes was ranked No. 29.
“You could tell he was a special athlete,” said Jim Schafer, one of the most successful individuals in CAL history. He competed with Wickes in both basketball and baseball playing for Egg Harbor City High School. “We always wanted to beat Ocean City and Frank made it difficult. He competed hard and he was successful but he was also a really nice guy.”
After graduation, Wickes taught at high schools in Delaware and Virginia, played in Wilmington’s National Guard band and earned two master’s degrees at the University of Michigan, in woodwind performance and in music education.
While studying at Michigan he got the urge to direct a marching band at a university with a major football program. He got his chance, spending seven years at the University of Florida and, in 1980, accepting a job at Louisiana State University. At LSU, Wickes built up the marching band in size and reputation. He recruited nationwide for top musicians for both the band and LSU’s 58-person wind ensemble.
“We had good scholarships and good support,” Wickes once said. “Just like coaches recruiting athletes, we went after blue-chip instrumentalists and we had a lot of success. I always had good students, good musicians.”
Wickes earned a long list of honors over the years, including the Kappa Kappa Psi Distinguished Service to Music Medal, the Phi Beta Mu National Bandmaster of the Year award and election to the Louisiana Music Educators Hall of Fame and the National Band Association Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors.
And, almost exactly one year ago, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Arts Degree by LSU. “It was huge surprise,” he said at the time. “I am just so honored.”
Frank Wickes became one of the best in his career choice in the country. But to those who remember him from his high school days at OCHS he was a talented athlete and a very nice guy.