THE SOUND OF SQUEAKING ATHLETIC shoes thrums out a steady rhythm of bump, set, spike. Between two benches, handling the scoreboard, Mel Froli watches the game intently. His eyes are on the court, never missing a beat of the intense volleyball match unfolding before him. As a sports announcer for Gunn High School, he can hardly afford to blink.
Although Froli dreamed of announcing sports professionally, he was told by his college adviser that it was an extremely difficult career. He then turned his attention to teaching. Froli started working for the Palo Alto Unified School District immediately after finishing his degree.
For the past 52 years, Froli has served as a PAUSD volunteer and teacher, primarily at Jane Lanthrop Stanford Middle School. Throughout the years, Froli has witnessed JLS undergo many changes, which have included the renaming of JLS, the creation of a new middle school mascot and the founding of the JLS student-run store.
Froli helped choose the panther as the new mascot of JLS. According to Froli, the north part of Palo Alto (now the Jordan district) nominated the panther, while the south part (now the JLS district) nominated a bulldog.
“We went to the [former JLS] principal and said, ‘It looks like we have a tie,’ and she said, ‘We’ll be Panthers,’” Froli says. “And that’s why we’re Panthers.”
Since then, Froli has been instrumental in aiding the JLS Panther by providing snacks, guidance and support for the mascots. Former Panther Gloria Guzman has fond memories of Froli and appreciates his numerous contributions to the community.
“He gave it his all no matter how big the event was,” says Guzman, a Paly senior.
Froli also helped create the mock election program at JLS in 1980. Completely student-run, the mock election imitates real national elections as closely as possible, even requiring students and teachers to register before voting.
“Students would want to come in and vote but they weren’t registered so they couldn’t,” Froli says.
One of his favorite memories of JLS is when the principal forgot to register for the the mock election.
“The student [handling the voting] was doing her job and she said, ‘I’m sorry, you did not register so you can’t vote’ … and he [the principal] got mad,” Froli says. “But I just congratulated the girl for doing her job.”
Aside from teaching and volunteering in the district, Froli has also managed to keep his childhood dream alive by serving as an announcer for sports at various PAUSD schools and programs, as well as at Stanford for 16 years.
Occasionally, Froli sees students, including some from the Paly community, he used to announce for and is proud to know that they still remember him, he says.
“The [Paly] stadium is right on the railroad tracks, and the train goes by during the game, so I would announce, ‘That’s the 4:30 to San Francisco,’ and I bumped into one of the football players the other day, and he said, “I sure liked it when you said, ‘That’s the 4:30 to San Francisco,’” Froli says.
Despite how the district has evolved, Froli insists that the atmosphere has stayed the same. He loves working with middle schoolers because he believes that it is an important age for children, where ideas are shaped and values formed.
“Unless they’re obnoxious, you gotta love them,” Froli says. “They’re not set in their ways [and] you can talk with them and reason with them.”
While it may seem that middle sc
hool kids might be a little too hard to handle, Froli says that this has never been the case, which is part of the reason why he enjoys working with them so much.
“When you deal with them, you know they’re respectful,” Froli says. “They’re fun. Every day is a new memory.”