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Tribute honors two Tracy High legends

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Don Nicholson and Jim Franco took the spotlight on Saturday morning, with their extended Tracy High School family honoring them for their influence on multiple generations of teachers, students, coaches and athletes.

Cindy Staser, Tracy High class of 1984 and the activities director at Astoria Senior Living and Memory Care on West Lowell Avenue, said she wanted to set the morning aside to honor the legendary Bulldogs, who are both residents at Astoria.

“I bleed green and gold, so I have so much respect for both of these men,” Staser said.

The 40 or so people who showed up for the tribute included about 20 former teachers, coaches, students and athletes who talked of how the two men influenced the culture at Tracy High.

Speakers also fondly recalled their experiences at the school during the decades they worked there with Franco as the school’s principal and later as the superintendent of Tracy Unified School District, and Nicholson as a coach, including 32 years as the “Bullpups” junior varsity football team head coach.

Franco came to Tracy in 1987 and was principal of Monte Vista Middle School for two years before serving as Tracy High’s principal between 1989 and 1995. He went on to serve as Tracy Unified School District’s associate superintendent of educational services until 2002 and then was the district superintendent until his retirement in 2013.

“Morning, noon and night, weekdays and weekends, he has worked tirelessly for our schools and our community — a dedicated champion of public e…

“He mentored me through all of the years in my job,” said Casey Goodall, Tracy Unified’s associate superintendent for business services, recalling that he met Franco in 1994. “I’ve been in the same job all of those years, and he’s moved from principal all the way up to the district office and becoming my boss. I have to say, he’s the most lovable boss I’ve ever had in my life.”

Tracy High’s main building was named the Dr. James C. Franco building in 2012, three years after its completion. It replaced the original Tracy High School building, popularly called the West Building, which had to be taken down because the aging structure could not meet modern safety standards.

Goodall noted that Franco’s leadership led to the creation or upgrade of the new Tracy High building and other school buildings around the district, including Kimball High, Monte Vista, McKinley, South/West Park, Central and North schools.

“I like to think of those as being the monuments that honor the time that Jim spent in the school district,” Goodall said.

Mercedes Silveira-Gouveia was president of the local teachers union when Franco came to the district, and he eventually chose her as the district’s English language coordinator for students who learned English as their second language.

“With his encouragement, many, many English language learners from all over the world benefited from his leadership in this program that he led,” she said. “He touched all of our lives and our hearts at the same time.”

Nicholson, for whom the Kimball High stadium was named in 2010, was also praised as a mentor and as a positive influence on players and coaches. In his 32 years as the JV football coach, the Bullpups were the top team in their league for 27 of those years.

“His teams were always 10-0 or 9-1, so he always put a lot of pressure on me, so I had to win,” said former Tracy High varsity football coach Wayne Schneider. “I learned an awful lot from Don. Every time I had something new or was thinking of something, I would go to Don and ask for his opinion, and he’d get on the blackboard and we would write everything up, and so I’d know.”

Jeremy Silcox, Tracy High class of 1994, recalled that Coach Nicholson would quietly tell the players about the challenges ahead of them before a game, and then suddenly raise the intensity to get the team fired up.

“We were a really good team, and he was calm and direct and confident in who we were and what we were doing,” Silcox said. “I just loved that about Mr. Nicholson. That’s one of my fondest memories of him.”

Longtime Tracy High teacher Steve Sievers also looked up to Nicholson during his 32 years as a teacher, especially when he aspired to be a coach at Tracy High.

“When I finally got my chance, I was using some profanity, and Nicholson comes up to me and he says, ‘We don’t cuss around here.’ I asked around and the more I heard, neither him or any of his children ever used a profanity in their lives. They’re just great people,” Sievers said.

Sievers added that he and Franco developed a friendship that he will always value.

“Over the 30-something years I knew these guys, they were some of the greatest moments of my life,” Sievers said. “These guys were great people, great educators, and I never could stand near them, as far as being that good.”

Franco added some comments of his own at the end, acknowledging the staff members he had worked with over the years.

“Without your help, we couldn’t have done half of what we accomplished,” he said. “My life was enriched by all of you in my time with the school district.”

Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com or 830-4227.

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