Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen addresses the crowd at a ceremony for retiring Amidon-Bowen Elementary School Coach Frank Briscoe. Courtesy of Hugh Ho
By Matt Koehler
Smokey Robinson’s falsetto flooded the gymnasium of Amidon-Bowen Elementary School on a balmy early June afternoon. The school year was coming to a close – there was a changing of the guard between the fourth and fifth grade, little ones were making the leap from PreK to Kindergarten, and the youngest just finished their first year in school. Change was in the air. Seconding that change (and emotion), Coach Frank Briscoe ambled out onto the gym floor, where he guided so many young athletes over the years, officially for the last time.
The surprise commemoration ceremony for Briscoe honored his 40-year career in teaching and coaching athletics in the DC Public Schools (DCPS) – the final years spent at Amidon-Bowen.The whole school was present, including many parents, the coach’s wife and immediate family, and even Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen.
After a performance by the Tiger Cheer Squad, Principal TaMikka Sykes took to the microphone. “Seven years ago, Coach Briscoe walked into my office and asked to be coach,” she told the gathered assembly. She talked about Briscoe’s 40 years of coaching and teaching and said that because of him, the students were stronger, healthier, and better educated. “You’ve been consistent and most of all, you’ve shown up. I want you to know that you are loved and you will be missed.”
Several speeches were made by students, as well as video presentations, and everyone expounded on Briscoe’s dedication and exceptionalism. “You don’t have to be the best, to do your best,” said one little student. Another said that Briscoe was “the greatest coach ever.” A fourth grader said that Briscoe had “given [him] more confidence.”
To punctuate their own words, many students were in tears after the ceremony.
“I’ve been very fortunate to coach kids at Amidon Elementary school,” Briscoe told everyone. “We have great athletes at Amidon and what I enjoy most is seeing their faces light up.” He also said that seeing the kids gain that spark of wanting to learn and grow as athletes has been motivating and invigorating for him. “Most of the people I’ve come across have greatness in them. Other times, you have to bring it out of them.”
Closing out his farewell speech, Briscoe turned to Sykes and said, “She’s been a wonderful principal, and I truly love her.”
As an extra thank you for Briscoe’s service to DCPS, especially Amidon-Bowen, the PTA and Sykes commissioned a plaque that will go in the gymnasium, which is being named after the coach.
Though no one can replace Briscoe, he won’t be leaving Amidon-Bowen without stellar replacements, and served on the selection committee that chose two outstanding replacements. Avery Queen, a health and physical education teacher, has 10 years of coaching experience and six years teaching health and PE. Emoni Smith is a DC native and physical education teacher with nine years of experience. She’s also an All-Star Cheerleading coach. They both said they’re looking forward to continuing the athletic tradition that Frank Briscoe built at Amidon-Bowen.
There are many focal points in neighborhoods – especially neighborhoods with long memories. Amidon-Bowen Elementary school is such a focal point, a nexus of sorts where powerful and transformative memories take place. Championships have been won there. Future generations have played and perfected their game there. Astronauts have come down from their rocket ships to visit. And last month the school and community gathered its collective energy around another focal point in sending off Coach Frank Briscoe. A great teacher and advocate for the future – a shaper of transformative memories – “the greatest coach ever” to quote an Amidon-Bowen fourth grader. A man that will truly be missed.