Nikki Franke clinched her 800th career win at Temple on Sunday. But her historic coaching career almost never happened.
After she graduated from Brooklyn College in 1972, Franke didn’t plan to continue her education. But Denise O’Connor, her college coach and teammate at the 1976 Olympics, called Franke’s mother to convince Franke to attend graduate school at Temple. O’Connor’s former fencers often studied at Temple after leaving Brooklyn. Many became involved with the fencing club before it was a Division I sport. Franke did the same.
Franke has been Temple’s coach since the team formed in 1972. Franke entered this season with 781 wins before earning No. 800 against Air Force on Sunday at the Northwestern Duals in South Bend, Indiana.
“I am really happy I could reach an achievement such as this,” Franke said. “I tried not to think about it too much because I knew it would happen soon. But to reach a win number like this at a school like Temple is an extreme honor, and I am happy I could be a part of a successful program.”
“All of us are honored to be a part of something this special,” sophomore sabre Malia Hee said. “We wanted to get this milestone for her. We are pumped we were able to get it [Sunday.] It’s always fun to see coach Franke smile with us.”
In her 45 previous seasons as coach, Franke has only had two losing seasons. She has a run of 41 straight seasons with a winning record. Franke’s all-time record now stands at 803-283-1 in her 46th season, which makes her the longest tenured coach for any Temple program.
In the 1991-92 season, Franke led the foil squad to a first-place finish at the NCAA Championships. Franke also won the United States Fencing Coach of the Year award in 1983, 1987, 1988 and 1991.
Last season, the fencing program set a record for wins in a season with 34. This year, Temple is No. 7 in the CollegeFencing360.com poll with top-five aspirations.
As a fencer, Franke was a part of the U.S. Olympic Foil Squad in 1976 and 1980. She also took home the United States Fencing Association National Foil Championship in 1975 and 1980.
Franke is a member of the United States Fencing Association, International Women’s Sports, Temple Athletics and Brooklyn College halls of fame.
“Nikki is a star in fencing,” said Peter Westbrook, Franke’s Olympic teammate in 1976 and 1980. “She was one of the first African-American women to be this successful in the sport. Wherever she goes, she is successful. She is a true star in the community of fencing, and all of her success doesn’t surprise me.”
In the fencing community, Franke is a “legend,” said Kamali Thompson, who fenced on Temple’s sabre squad from 2008-12.
In 2008, Thompson was participating at a North American Cup event, one of her first competitions as an Owl. Thompson remembers walking into the venue with Franke when a group of Temple alumnae started a conversation with their former coach. At that moment, Thompson knew her career was in the right hands, she said.
“Everyone I talked to when I was picking a school to go to knew coach Franke and had nothing but great things to say about her,” Thompson said. “When I arrived at Temple, all those things were true.”
“Nikki is so focused and calm in her approach,” O’Connor said. “It is incredible. The way she is able to process things in such a mild manner allows her to make the right decision all the time. Her sense of [comfort] rubs off on people around her, and that allows for people around her to be comfortable and perform their best.”
Franke’s love for the sport of fencing drives her every day. She wants to coach as long as she possibly can.
“I just want to contribute to the sport I love,” Franke said. “Whatever people do, it can’t be done by themselves. It takes hard work from everyone. I just want to be able to come into work every day and share the sport I love with other people. I am grateful for an opportunity to do that.”