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Local youth football coach honored with Frank Ortega Field - FlagSpin

Local youth football coach honored with Frank Ortega Field

Joshua Ortega thought the best way to honor his father, Frank, a beloved Gibsonton coach, was to get more kids involved in the sport dad loved.

GIBSONTON, Fla. — This upcoming fall will mark Joshua Ortega’s sixth season coaching football for his alma mater. He graduated East Bay High School in 2007 and loves being on the sidelines.

It’s a great start, but he still lags decades behind the coaching legacy set by his father.

“His whole life was about giving back to others,” said a proud son.

Frank was part of a single-family home living paycheck to paycheck. His mother was a migrant worker. He didn’t get involved in sports at all until high school, which required him to stay with a family friend for four years. Frank eventually made his way to the Marines. After military service, he wanted to help kids facing a similar upbringing.

The journey led him to the little league football fields in Gibsonton.

“He felt like sports was a way out for the kids,” Joshua said. “He would take kids home from football practice and carpool because their parents wouldn’t be able to make it on time because they were working two jobs.”

Frank began coaching as a volunteer at the Ruskin Recreation Center where he coached flag football for 10 years before transitioning into a coaching role with the East Bay Buccaneers in 1999. Once Joshua got to high school, Frank spent his time tutoring players at East Bay High School.

For 20 years, Frank’s whistle and wisdom could be heard on the sidelines. It was a chore to even get there. Joshua recalled the many times his father and stepmom moved to new homes in Polk County, which required Frank to drive nearly an hour one way to coach the East Bay Buccaneers. The youth football scene was that important to him. After two decades of watching his dad do this, there was no doubt Joshua was going to follow in those footsteps.

“100 percent,” said Joshua.

Father and son started working out together in 2020. Joshua was set to be married to a girl who grew up cheering on the sidelines at East Bay Bucs games. Frank wanted to get in good shape for the ceremony. One morning, he couldn’t make it to the gym and called Joshua to tell him he wouldn’t make it.

A few hours later, he was taken to the hospital with chest pains. Within a few weeks, he died. COVID-19 was deemed the cause.

“He’s a casualty of COVID-19,” said Joshua, holding back tears.

Frank was always a huge supporter of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The reigning Super Bowl champions were well-aware of his contributions to the Gibsonton youth football scene, too. Former Bucs stars Gerald McCoy and Jameis Winston spent time with Frank at coaching clinics. Wide receiver Mike Evan hosted camps with Frank. He attended almost every home game after purchasing season tickets and even pledged to go to at least one away game with Joshua each season. This loss was felt in the front offices at One Buc Place. The Glazer family even sent flowers to his funeral.

“He didn’t ask for this recognition and to be honest he probably wouldn’t have wanted this recognition but he deserved it,” said Joshua.

Within days of his death, the little league organizers called Joshua with an idea. They wanted to honor his father by putting his name on the bleachers and scoreboard. Joshua was shocked.

The organization has renamed their playing field to be forever known as “The Frank Ortega Field at Vance Vogel Park”. A ceremony honored Frank before the season opener in 2020. A smiling photo of Frank now occupies the right side of the East Bay Bucs’ scoreboard.

Frank is gone, but after this special tribute, Joshua takes great joy in the fact that every child who steps between the lines going forward will, in a way, still be under the watchful eye of his father.

“Most parents come here, they coach them, and they move on,” said Joshua. “My dad, he stayed. Every year, after about ten seasons, he was like, ‘I’m going to hang it up. I’m going to hang up the whistle’. Then this time of year, he’d be like, ‘I’m going to go back out there. They need my help’.”

Joshua started the Coach Frank Ortega Foundation in honor of his dad with the goal of raising money to offset some of the costs associated with little league football for kids who may otherwise not be able to afford to play the sport. He also plans to prioritize funds for post-graduate education opportunities for one girl and one boy in the program each year.

It’s what Frank would want.

“I was raised by an extremely amazing father who taught me the values of helping others in need,” said Joshua.

Before Hurricane Elsa arrived, Joshua gathered some of the kids from the East Bay league and handed out water bottles and a few other items bearing the Foundation name – all for free.

I hope (the Foundation) becomes something that in years to come people remember the name Coach Frank Ortega,” said Joshua.

The Coach Frank Ortega Foundation will host a fundraising flag football tournament July 17 and 18. That will include AAU teams with players from Newsome High School, Bloomingdale, and others.

“The way I look at it is you only die twice. The first time is when you physically pass away, and I think the second time you die is when no one else says your name ever again and no one remembers you and my goal is to make sure my dad is never forgotten and he never dies again, and that’s what my family and I are trying to do.”

During his tenure with the East Bay Buccaneers, Coach Frank served as head coach and assistant coach at the Midget, JV, and Varsity levels, having taken some of his teams all the way to the Super Bowl. Coach Frank also held multiple board member and trustee positions with the East Bay Buccaneers during his tenure.

In 2015, Coach Frank joined the East Bay High School staff, working as the in-game video coordinator.

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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