As Mike Franklin walked up to the baseball field at Catoctin High School, his players stopped warming up.
They turned toward home plate and erupted in applause.
“That’s it. Triangles,” Franklin said, joking that he would make his players run from home plate to foul pole to the other foul pole and back to home plate. “All right, stop it. Let’s get back to work.”
It wasn’t the typical start to a practice for the longtime baseball coach and physical education teacher. But Tuesday wasn’t the typical day. In fact, hours earlier, Franklin walked into a much larger round of applause.
After he was lured away from the gymnasium for a fake meeting early in the morning, school administrators led him back into the gym to an ovation from students, teachers and central office employees naming him the Frederick County Teacher of the Year.
“This is so humbling,” Franklin says. “You get into education because you like to help kids. It’s not about trophies or accolades or anything. So, I’m not real comfortable.”
Where Franklin’s at his most comfortable, though, is on the field or in the gym. He has spent more than two decades focusing on building relationships with his students and players employing a tact he dubs “catch them being good,” which focuses on praising students and highlighting the positive things they do in the school building or out in the community.
“If a young man makes a mistake, and it goes on social media, people retweet that and it goes viral, nationally sometimes,” he says. “If a different young man volunteers at a shelter, or helps our unified programs, nobody retweets that. ... What we as teachers and coaches need to do is enhance the positive media. We have power. We need to use it.”
He sets the tone with his actions, too. During the holiday season, he organized a food drive and came to work early every morning to stand outside as the buses arrived and collected items for the local food pantry — an act highlighted by Catoctin Principal Bernie Quesada.
“That is one of hundreds of examples of selfless actions he has shared as a teacher and colleague. You will not find a more influential teacher leader in FCPS,” Quesada said.
As influential as he’s been, Franklin almost never became a teacher in the first place. He went to college originally to follow in his brother’s footsteps and gointo business. But he quickly realized it wasn’t the major for him. Instead, former superintendent Dave Markoe and current deputy superintendent Mike Markoe proposed the idea of Franklin getting into education. Mike Markoe and Franklin grew up together, and Dave Markoe served as a mentor to Franklin.
“They saw something in me and thought I could be a great teacher one day,” Franklin said. “I guess they planted that seed.”
Mark Rogers, a senior at Catoctin High School, said he was glad to see his coach and teacher recognized. Rogers, who has known Franklin since Rogers was in third grade, praised his coach’s teaching style and how he treats students.
Franklin is a support system for students going through difficult times, Rogers said. He also makes sure everyone is included in class activities, he added.
“He always makes class a good time,” Rogers said. “It’s fun, but it’s safe.”
And there’s not much of a difference between Coach Franklin and Mr. Franklin, Rogers said. He’s the same man, but more competitive on the ball field. Franklin relies on building relationships with his players just like he does his students.
He recalled the 2013 state championship game his team played in, where 30 former players attended the game, which was played three hours from Thurmont, he said.
“Nobody remembers or cares about trophies,” Franklin said. “They all get rust and disappear. But 20 years from now what I hope someone says is I remember how [Mike] Franklin treated me. ... I’ll remember forever that my relationship was that good with them that they’d drive three hours to watch a game they’re not even in.”
This year is the third straight year that a non-”core four” teacher won the school system’s most prestigious award. With an increasing emphasis on technology in schools, and high school-aged kids getting more screen time in general, a physical education teacher’s job has become increasingly important, and Franklin was happy to see that recognized.
“I think there’s so much power as a phys ed teacher to shape the culture in a building,” Franklin said. “You see kids in a non-sit-down environment. I can really pump kids up or give them a fist bump in class or root them on. There’s power in that.”
And, clearly, by his team’s applause as he walked into practice after school, his players were pleased to see him recognized as well.
“He’s just the best,” Rogers said. “He’s the best person out there.”