Papa’s Carrying the Torch on the Trails
With a few years of wrestling experience under his belt, Frank Papa decided to join the East Haven cross country program as a junior last fall. Frank quickly found out that cross country was much more than a way to stay in shape and has become a leader for the Yellowjackets during his senior season.
Frank always enjoyed running, but had never competed in the sport before last year. As a member of the wrestling squad, Frank and his teammates would run a 5K every summer. When the 2021 wrestling season was put in jeopardy due to COVID-19, Frank decided to take running more seriously and signed up for the East Haven boys’ cross country team.
“We didn’t have a wrestling preseason, and I knew I had to do something. I ended up joining cross country,” says Frank. “It was something new. It woke me up, seeing all these people running. Some of these guys are running 5Ks in 15 minutes.”
As he started running more, Frank realized how the sport was helping him develop as an athlete. Frank says that participating in cross country is one of the best workouts for him as it involves every muscle in the body.
Frank was the only junior on the boys’ cross country squad last year. The other four members of the team were all seniors. This year, Frank returned to the team for his senior campaign, because he wanted to continue improving as a runner and help the program grow as a whole.
“I felt like I had an obligation to the team. I was the only junior boy last season. Everybody else was a senior,” Frank says. “If I didn’t do it this year, there would be no boys on the team this year. I’m just one guy, but it’s better than having nobody.”
Frank is the only member of East Haven’s boys’ cross country team this season. There are four athletes competing for the girls’ team. With such a small roster, the Yellowjackets don’t have any official captains, but Frank still prides himself on leading the Easties during their warmups for both practices and meets. Frank wants the younger athletes in the program to have someone to look up to, just like he did last season.
“It means a lot. I’ve always wanted to become a leader,” says Frank. “We have kids who are sophomores, and it’s their first year doing it. It’s good to have someone to look up to. They’re in the position I was in last year.”
Ricky Narracci is in his first year as the head coach of the East Haven cross country program. It didn’t take long for Narracci to see the physical and mental toughness that Frank brings to the trails on a daily basis.
“Frank is a kid who puts his head down and goes to work every day,” Narracci says. “He doesn’t make excuses and wants to improve each day. He is tough.”
Frank has competed for the East Haven wrestling team since his freshman season. He started with the sport as a 7th-grader at Joseph Melillo Middle School. Throughout his time with the Yellowjackets, Frank has bounced around weight classes by competing from anywhere between 113 and 130 pounds.
Frank saw his junior wrestling season get canceled as a result of COVID. As his senior season draws closer, Frank has been named a captain for the Yellowjackets.
“It has been a great experience. I have no regrets doing it whatsoever,” Frank says of wrestling. “As a freshman, no one really saw me as a huge asset. I never would have expected I would be captain. But I was loyal to the team. I gave up a lot for the team. I ended up becoming captain.”
While running cross country has made Frank a better athlete, it has also allowed him to make numerous connections that he wouldn’t have formed otherwise. Wrestling and cross country have two different communities, and Frank likes serving as a link between each of them.
Now a two-sport varsity athlete, Frank is hoping to finish out his time at East Haven with a successful senior year. Before he graduates, Frank wants to continue being a leader as he helps the Yellowjackets’ cross country and wrestling programs build a foundation for the future.
“I like the notion that maybe I’ll go down in history at East Haven. Maybe people will recognize me as one of the greater athletes,” says Frank. “But it’s not just about me. It’s about setting an example for the future generation.”