The American Dream means different things to different people.
For some, it is being employed in a profession that is both challenging and stimulating. For others, it’s getting married, having children, owning a home, sending the kids to college and hopefully retiring with some money left over. Regardless of your specific interpretation, one thing is certain: Frank McFillin is living his American Dream.
The longtime football assistant will soon embark on his 36th season patrolling the city’s high school sidelines. His coaching destinations have included a brief stop at Father Judge (1979-80), a long tenure at Archbishop Ryan (1974-75, 1982-2007), and his current destination of George Washington High (2008-present), where he is an offensive assistant for the perennial Public League power.
Over the last three decades, McFillin has enjoyed unprecedented success on the gridiron, including coaching in 13 championship games, seven of which he won. However, his earliest accomplishments came as a player. The 1969 St. Joseph’s Prep graduate was an All-Catholic lineman who initially walked on, then later earned, a football scholarship at Temple University.
Immediately after graduating from Temple, McFillin was contacted by then-Archbishop Ryan coach John Quinn to come and help out with the team’s offensive line.
“The offense that Quinn was running and the offensive blocking schemes that I was accustomed to at Temple were very similar,” McFillin recalled during a recent phone interview.
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Despite his record of success, McFillin maintains a very unassuming, under-the-radar persona. When pressed to reveal his career coaching accolades, he is quick to redirect the credit. As a position coach for the offensive line, McFillin has produced hundreds of All-City and All-Public selections. The exact number is unknown and unimportant, according to McFillin. He didn’t get into coaching to pat himself on the back. To hear the lifelong Northeast resident tell it, football has always been his passion.
However, those closest to the 35-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department (his day job is a sergeant assigned to the dignitary protection unit/homeland security bureau) know that there is a passion in his life that far outshines the gridiron: his family.
McFillin and his wife, Anne, are devoted parents of 12 children — seven boys and five girls. (The eldest, Francis Jr., was born prematurely and lived for just nine hours.) Today, the McFillin children range in age from 17 to 34, with the oldest children having children of their own. In fact, Frank and Anne have 15 grandchildren, with two more on the way.
While large families are no longer the norm in today’s society, the “McFillin 11” may have been an inevitable undertaking. Frank and Anne both come from traditionally large Irish-Catholic families.
“My wife was raised with five brothers and three sisters, and I had four brothers and three sisters of my own,” McFillin said.
Frank and Anne met while growing up in the city’s Somerton section. While Frank went off to attend St. Joe’s Prep, Anne stayed local and attended Archbishop Ryan, where she was elected the first class president of the girls school.
While the sheer size of the McFillin family is remarkable, Frank and Anne’s most impressive contribution may be their children’s athletic and academic accomplishments.
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The oldest of the McFillin children, Matthew, set the bar high both academically and athletically for his younger siblings. An All-City football selection as a lineman at Archbishop Ryan, Matt earned a scholarship to West Chester University, where he started all four years and attained his accounting degree. Today, Matt continues to set the bar high as a forensic accountant working in Center City. He and his wife, Maureen, have four children, with No. 5 due on Halloween.
Second in line is Margaret. She also attended Ryan, where she was a three-sport star, earning All-Catholic honors in field hockey. The four-year letter winner in swimming was also a soccer phenom who earned a scholarship to Manor College. The married mother of four is employed as a part-time court stenographer.
Next up is Joseph. The two-time All-Catholic football player at Ryan earned his way to Williamson Trade School, where he continued to excel athletically. Today, Joe is married with three children and, like his father, is employed as a Philadelphia police officer.
Deidre is the fourth child, and like the others before her, she excelled both academically and athletically while attending Ryan. An All-Catholic selection in basketball, Deidre earned a scholarship from the Abington School of Nursing. The Immaculata University graduate works at Aria-Torresdale Hospital and is married to Father Judge baseball coach Tim Ginter. They have two children.
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Approaching the halfway point, there is Katherine. The married mother of two is expecting her third child any day now. Katherine was the student council vice president while at Ryan, where she was a two-sport star in both swimming and soccer. Like her older sister Margaret, Katherine works as a court stenographer.
The George Washington High era begins with child No. 6, Richard. The 2004 graduate was an All-City football performer who holds degrees from both La Salle University and Mercer College. Like his father, he has coached football on the high school level, with stops at Washington, Council Rock North and Upper Moreland.
Next in line is John, a 2005 GW graduate. Also an All-City football player, he earned his accounting degree from Temple and is currently enlisted in the Navy.
Colin, 24, has a unique story. The Washington graduate, with the help of his very attentive mother (a registered nurse), was able to overcome some early setbacks. He was diagnosed with autism as a child after receiving a misdiagnosis from several doctors.
“My wife’s persistence paid off,” Frank said. “We found the right school for Colin early on and he ended up graduating and doing well.”
Just to maintain bragging rights with the rest of his family, Colin excelled at swimming while in high school and served as the football team’s manager. Currently, he works at Shop Rite and the Somerton Springs Swim Club.
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The last son is William. The 2009 Washington graduate excelled in three sports while in high school, and the All-City football standout earned All-Southeastern Pennsylvania honors as well. He was also a top-notch basketball and baseball player and today he is enrolled in the Abington School of Nursing with an anticipated graduation in 2013.
Hilary is a 2010 Washington grad. She served as president of student council while earning All-Public honors in soccer and is currently working toward her paralegal degree.
Last but not least is Maria. She started off attending Washington but later transferred to Nazareth Academy. Heading into her senior year, the former All-Public field hockey player is hoping for a repeat of her junior campaign, where she was a major contributor for the Pandas. In keeping with tradition, Maria, who holds a near-perfect grade point average, will head off to college in the fall of 2013.
Despite balancing a hectic work and family schedule for the last 35 years, Frank McFillin is not ready to take his foot off the accelerator just yet.
“I’m looking forward to this upcoming season of coaching,” he said. “I still have that drive. I met with the (Washington) coaches just the other day to go over some things.”
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McFillin has had a front row seat to view some of the greatest football athletes to pass through the city and region during his lengthy career. To name the best is difficult; he coached his fair share of great ones while at Ryan but he was quick to point out that former Washington star defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd was “totally dominant.” Floyd was named a high school All-American by USA Today, Parade and EA Sports and is heading into his junior season at the University of Florida.
The multi-faceted husband, father, grandfather and coach understands that none of this would be possible without the selfless dedication of his wife. While things admittedly could get crazy with a house full of children, Anne has learned to take things as they come.
“You have one (child) at a time,” she said. “Each person is their own person.”
That attitude has helped produce 11 great children.
McFillin admits, “Anne gives me the opportunity to coach football and devote the amount of time that is necessary. My wife is very special.”
Special is a word that would describe the entire McFillin clan, as 11 success stories is no coincidence or easy feat. As Washington assistant football coach John McAneney points out, “One McFillin kid is nicer than the next. They’re just great kids.”
They have their parents and their own version of the American Dream to thank for that. ••EndFragment