Two members of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame benefited from the guidance and wisdom of the late Frank Kapral, the former wrestling coach at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and a big supporter of wrestling and athletics in southeastern Connecticut in the 1960s and 1970s.
Kapral, who was 91, died in March, with his wife of 68 years, Doris, and his family at his side.
Rick Sherman coached at East Lyme High School and was inducted in the Connecticut Chapter in 2005. At a retirement party for Kapral, Sherman once told the New London Day newspaper, “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.”
Bernie Nasser was inducted into the Connecticut Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2013 for his expertise as an official. He received guidance and assistance from Kapral early in his career.
Kapral helped Nasser establish Fitch’s program 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.”
Kapral 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.
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 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.
Born on February 15, 1929 in Courtdale, Pa., Kapral 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.