Captain Frank Kapral, the former wrestling coach at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London and supporter of wrestling and athletics in southeastern Connecticut, has passed away at the age of 91. He died on Tuesday, March 17, after a long struggle with dementia and other health issues. He was in the company of his wife of 68 years, Doris, and his family when he passed.
He spent 26 years at the Coast Guard where he was an instructor, coach, assistant athletic director and business manager of athletics. He arrived at the Coast Guard in 1958 where he became an assistant football coach under Pro Football Hall of Fame member Otto Graham and an assistant wrestling coach.
Kapral led the Coast Guard wrestling program for seven years from 1960-66. Under his leadership, Coast Guard finished in the top five in New England five times, taking second in 1960 and fourth in 1961 and 1963. He had wrestlers qualify for the NCAA Division I tournament five times from 1960-66.
Kapral (57-15-4) founded the Coast Guard Invitational tournament in 1960, which grew from six to 18 teams. Some of the best Division I teams in the country competed in the tournament, including an appearance by national champion Oklahoma State in 1966.
He was appointed to the NCAA Wrestling Rules Committee for New England in 1962.
Kapral also helped wrestling blossom in eastern Connecticut and in the state. He founded the Coast Guard’s Small Fry wrestling program in the 1960s for boys ages 4-18. That interest helped spark varsity wrestling programs in many eastern Connecticut schools.
Kapral also served as commissioner of the Southern Connecticut Interscholastic Wrestling Officials’ Association for nearly 25 years before retiring in 1984.
Kapral was honored by wrestling officials at a tribute dinner when he retired. Rick Sherman, who coached at East Lyme High and was inducted into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, told the New London Day in 1984, “If you ever needed help, Frank was there. There are years of service that he’s given to the sport between coaching, administering and officiating, the clinics he put on and the people he has instructed. Some of the biggest names in the state of Connecticut have learned from him and it helped get their programs started.”
Kapral also started the state’s first Pee Wee wrestling league. He wrote two widely-used textbooks — Coach’s Illustrated Guide to Championship Wrestling in 1964, and Coach’s Illustrated Guide to Championship Football in 1967. In 1988, he was named man of the year for New England college wrestling.’
Kapral helped Bernie Nasser establish a wrestling program at Fitch High in Groton in the early 1970s. “Frank was always there for me whether it was a question (about) weight certification, rules interpretation and, yes, even giving haircuts before a match. He was known to bring his towel and scissors to trim the lengthy hair on some wrestlers,” Nasser said.
When Nasser transitioned to becoming a full-time official in 1979, Kapral was supportive. “I had Frank as my guiding light,” Nasser said. “He introduced me to Otto Graham as well as other ranking officials at the (Coast Guard) academy, more positive influences in my life. He urged me to become an officer in the (Connecticut Interscholastic Wrestling Officials Association), positions that I held for 15 years). He introduced me to college officiating.” Nasser was inducted into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013.
Kapral’s legacy was more than wrestling. He was part of the football coaching staff that led Coast Guard to an undefeated season in 1963 and a berth in the Tangerine Bowl in Orlando, Fla. Kapral was head coach at Coast Guard for two seasons in 1966 and 1967 but unfortunately they didn’t win a game (0-16).
He was also an active member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and coached Pee Wee football for the town of East Lyme for five seasons. He taught religious education at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in New London.
At the Academy, Kapral served on the permanent commissioned teaching staff and earned his Master of Arts degree in Physical Education. When his coaching days were behind him, he remained a fixture at the Academy, serving as the business manager of athletics until his retirement in 1984, by which time he had risen to the rank of captain.
Born on February 15, 1929 in Courtdale, Pa., Capral was the youngest of five children. He excelled in athletics at Luzerne High School, where he graduated in 1946. He went on to wrestle and play football for Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pa., for an additional two years after high school.
Following graduation from Wyoming Seminary, Frank attended Michigan State University where he was a standout football player and wrestler from 1948 to 1952.
He was a national AAU 191-pound champion in wrestling and earned two letters in wrestling at MSU. He earned All-American recognition in football as the starting offensive guard on the undefeated 1951 Michigan State football team, which ranked No. 2 in the nation. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Speech and won the Potsy Ross Award for Outstanding Student/Athlete during his tenure at Michigan State.
Kapral was drafted by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in 23rd round in 1952 and attended preseason camp before being called to active duty as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Following his military service, he began a career as a teacher and coach at two Michigan high schools and Dartmouth College before he got to the Coast Guard.
Kapral was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame at Wyoming Seminary in 1976, Coast Guard Academy Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Luzerne County (Pennsylvania) Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
He is survived by his wife, Doris; his sister, Mary Kokinda of Courtdale, Pa.; and his six children: Linda Kapral Papp of Fairfax Station, Va. and her husband Admiral Robert Papp, USCG (Ret.), Lisa Moukawsher of Ladera Ranch, Calif., Regina Turgeon of Norwich and her husband Michael, Renee Pendleton of Winter Garden, Fla. and her husband Commander Fred Pendleton, USCG (Ret.), Lieutenant Colonel Gregory Kapral, USA (Ret.) and his wife Mary, of Palm Bay, Fla. and Kerri LeBeau of East Lyme and her husband Greg. Frank and Doris have ten grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.
Burial will take place at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined. The family asks that donations made in memory of Frank be directed to Catholic Charities of Central Florida, www.cflcc.org. Please visit www.beachfuneralhome.com for additional information and access to the guestbook.
Material from the obituary and a news release from the Coast Guard was used to compile this story.