A short time after it began, the coronavirus pandemic forced the CIF to cancel the rest of the spring sports season, which meant an abrupt ending to the high school careers of spring sports seniors around the central valley. As a way of honoring some of these outstanding seniors, our Sports Central team will be presenting a series of stories called “Senior Standouts” each Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday through the end of June.
KERMAN, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — As he navigated his early teenage years in Kerman, Jesse Franco was struggling mentally.
“Yeah, I was in a dark place,” says Franco. “I didn’t really see a lot in the future.”
But after Kerman High School relaunched track and field in 2017, Jesse eventually found a passion that helped turn his life around — throwing the shot put.
“It really showed me that anything’s possible,” says Franco.
“(He was) a young man that was just, I don’t know, squirrely and messing around all the time,” says his throwing coach Lyndell Hawkins, about Jesse’s early teen struggles. “(But he) finally found something in throwing, his ‘why’ in life, something that he wanted to pursue.”
Jesse finished eighth in the Valley in the shot put as a junior, and was trending towards a berth in the state meet this year as a senior, after setting a school-record with a throw of 54 feet, 7 inches back on March 11th. According to athletic.net, that throw ranked 14th-best in the state of California this year, and if not for the pandemic, he would have been the first Kerman High School athlete to qualify for the prestigious Arcadia Invitational.
Even more impressive.
He accomplished all this with only 4 1/2 fingers on his right hand, after a freak accident several years ago, where he got his right index finger caught on a fence. The top part of the finger was eventually amputated after several surgeries to try and repair it.
“Jesse, just being the guy he is, he has fun with it,” says Hawkins.
“I’m throwing further than most everyone in my league without a finger,” says a smiling Franco. “Every time I’d hit a PR (Personal Record) or anything, I would just say ‘give me a high 4 1/2.'”
With that good-natured attitude, it’s no surprise Jesse had a big impact on raising track and field’s popularity at Kerman.
“Girls from basketball, boys from football, different sport athletes that never would have thought about doing track or throwing,” says Hawkins. “We got some of them out here throwing.”
And because of Jesse, they’re now throwing on the school’s very own shot put ring, because Jesse successfully lobbied the district to have it built.
“I just told ’em (the district), ‘I hope it’s not a big deal, but do you guys mind putting a little slab out there for us, because we’re literally throwing out of a corner of cement into a tree,’ and I was already hitting the tree,” says Franco.
“He had a meeting with the higher-ups at the district office,” adds Hawkins. “I’m kind of laughing, thinking ‘we’re gonna see how far that gets,’ and you know what, they answered the bell.”
That’s quite a high school legacy for the son of first-generation immigrants. And Jesse will have a chance to add to that impressive legacy at the next level as well, since he’ll be continuing his track and field career on scholarship at Fresno Pacific.
“That’s my goal in life, just to make my parents proud,” sums up Franco. “Just be the best human I could possibly be.”