What drew Frank Howell to basketball? The uncertainty of what might happen next.
“It’s drama without a script,” he liked to say.
For better and for worse, so is life.
Howell, whose trademark in 13 years of coaching girls’ basketball at Cedar Rapids Washington was a bright red sweater and consistent winning, died Friday afternoon of complications from glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
He was 52.
Howell is survived by his wife, Sarah; two daughters, Meredith and Natalie; his mother, Mary Moore; his father, Frank Howell (Paula), two sisters and a half-brother.
Memorial services are at The Shaw Center at Graceland University, Lamoni at 2 p.m. June 26, and at First Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, 2 p.m. July 1.
Howell came to Washington in 2003, after winning a Class 2A state championship at Audubon in 1999. All 13 of his Warriors teams finished .500 or better.
“It was a special time, both personally and professionally,” said Jason Edwards, Howell’s assistant at Washington for eight years before taking the head position at Cedar Rapids Jefferson.
Howell’s tenure at Washington produced a 224-83 record. That included an 88-14 stretch — “a golden age,” Edwards called it — between 2004-05 and 2007-08, which featured three state runner-up finishes behind the trio of Kaitlin Armstrong, Katelin Oney and Micha Mims.
“That was an incredible run,” Howell said. “Whether we made it to state or not, what I feel most is how many people had an impact on my life.”
Armstrong and Oney went on to play at Northern Iowa.
“(Howell was) a personable guy. We knew he cared about us, on and off the court,” Armstrong said in 2016. “He was someone to give you criticism, but he’d also tell you what you were doing well.”
Cedar Rapids Xavier Coach Tom Lilly said in February, “When I think of Frank, I think of that damn red sweater he always wore.
“Frank’s teams (at Washington) were extremely aggressive. They’d full-court press you all night. He had some great players, and he was responsible for their skill set.”
Howell left Washington in 2016 to take a shot at coaching at the collegiate level. He coached four years with the Graceland University women’s program in Lamoni.
“I’m at the time of my life that if I don’t make the leap, it’s not going to happen,” he said after accepting the Graceland job. “I would wonder what might have been, and I didn’t want to do that.”
Howell’s four-year run netted a 31-88 record at the NAIA school in Lamoni, then he returned to the high school ranks at Central Decatur, where he coached two seasons.
He was diagnosed with glioblastoma in September, but was able to complete the season.
On a Friday in mid-February, all 16 Mississippi Valley Conference coaching staffs wore red in honor of Howell.
The theme: #MVCFightsWithFrank.
“It’s unbelievable, the amount of gratitude I have,” Howell said the following day. “It has been quite energizing in a time in which I sometimes haven’t had a lot of energy.”
A previous fundraiser, organized by former Washington athletics department secretary Brenda Carter in September, raised more than $26,000.
Howell was a native of Perry, and was a member of the school’s 1988 state championship boys’ basketball team, then continued his career at William Penn University.