Frank Courtois’ joy wouldn’t be special if it wasn’t for pain.

The Warsaw boys soccer coach overcame loss, poverty and hunger as a child to know community, comfort and nourishment as a man.

Through it all, Courtois maintained dignity and fortitude. 

“God gives us strength,” he said. “He would not let us go through stuff we cannot handle. 

“I know how it felt to be going to bed hungry. I slept in the streets of Port-au-Prince. That gave me enough courage.”

Courtois, 54, of Warsaw, is many things to many people: a father, a husband, a friend, a correctional officer, a philanthropist, and a soccer coach.

Before all that, he was just a kid growing up in Haiti. 

The Beginning

Courtois is the oldest of five boys, and lived in Grand-Goave, Haiti, until he was 8 years old. His life was changed forever when his father died from injuries sustained in a car accident.

Courtois didn’t learn of his father’s death until years later, as his mother feared it would cause him and his brothers to break down. 

Still, he felt the ripple effects of his father’s fate. His mother, not able to support five children on her own, sent him and his oldest brother to an orphanage.

“(It was) filthy,” Courtois said. “You developed some kind of sickness.” 

They lived there for a few years until his mother saw the squalor of their living conditions. She lobbied the Haitian government to find a healthier home for her sons. 

The Courtois brothers found a haven in Haiti Christian Orphanage in Petion-Ville. The home was run by Christian missionaries from Evansville, Ind.

“It was the top of all the orphanages,” Courtois said. 

The home gave him his first taste of American culture. Courtois’ education included welding, carpentry and music.

Missionaries, including the late John and Mona Lou Reid, of Warsaw, visited every three months, and Courtois found a benefactor in the late Franklin Mitchell.

Mitchell, also of Warsaw, sponsored the budding Courtois, and sent him bicycles and other toys. 

His most cherished playtime, though, came in the form of soccer. Courtois and his classmates formed a team and challenged squads from other neighborhoods. 

They made their own equipment, using trash-filled socks as soccer balls and lining up rocks as goalposts.

“You learn to play, to create, to be active,” Courtois said. 

Though his family practiced Catholicism, Courtois adopted Protestant Christianity at the orphanage. He rarely left the home, and while he visited his mother and brothers, his housemates became his new family. 

A Feeling Of Family

As good things must, Courtois’ time at the orphanage came to an end when he graduated from high school in 1981. 

Courtois and his classmates were left without shelter or money, but the Reids swooped in to put a roof over their heads.

They rented a house, called “Reid Boys Home,” for the young men, and paid for their higher education. By doing so, they became Courtois’ surrogate parents. 

“They gave us the feeling that we are something,” he said. “We have a family.”

Courtois continued to play soccer as a sweeper back, the last line of defense between the opposition and the goalie. It’s where he developed his coaching philosophy he employs at Warsaw.

“Your defense is gonna win you the game,” he said.

Courtois’ excellence on the pitch carried him to Haiti’s junior national team. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

“It’s our goal to try to make it,” Courtois said.

The Reids, however, had another goal in mind. They visited Courtois in June 1985 and asked if he wanted to come to America.

The decision was a no-brainer; Courtois’ brothers had already visited the United States, and had told him how wonderful it was. Their words confirmed, at least in part, the extravagant visions he had of the country.

“Every Haitian growing up, they think you’re walking the streets, you’re picking up money,” he said. 

Coming To America

On June 12, 1985, Frank Courtois came to the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on his back and shoes on his feet. 

However, it wasn’t money that greeted him when he got off the plane in Indianapolis. It was a gust of foreign, freezing air.

“I’m going, ‘Oh my God, what did I put myself in?’” he laughed.

The cold wasn’t Courtois’ only challenge. He faced bitter racism in his early years in Warsaw.

Reid introduced Courtois to the late Ray Monteith, then-owner of Monteith Tire (now Monteith’s Best-One Tire & Auto Care). Courtois was handy around a set of wheels, so Monteith hired him at his shop. 

One day, a man came in to have his vehicle’s brakes fixed, and Courtois asked him for his keys to get to work.

The man refused. He turned to Monteith and told him he wouldn’t let Courtois, whom he called a racial slur, work on his car.

The man walked out, and Courtois turned to Monteith. 

“I said, ‘If you really, really respect me, if he comes back here again, I want to work on his vehicle,’” Courtois said.

The man came back, and Monteith told him if he didn’t want Courtois to work on his car, he could take his business elsewhere.

The man dropped the keys on the counter.

When Courtois finished working, the man handed a one-dollar bill to a coworker to give to him. The man wouldn’t give the money directly to Courtois.

“I experienced that, and I’m trying to raise my children (to know that), no, that’s not acceptable,” Courtois said.

He still became part of the community. He attended Gospel Tabernacle on Sundays, and played soccer for Fort Wayne Sport Club, an amateur soccer team. 

He played for Fort Wayne for well over a decade, even competing on a team that qualified for the National Amateur Cup. 

Courtois’ battles on the makeshift soccer grounds of Haiti made American soccer a breeze.

“I was already fit,” he said. “I could get out of the vehicle and start playing.”

He remained active in his faith, and met his wife, Gina, at a church camp in the late-1990s.

“You saw that person, and she’s always smiling,” he said. “She always had a smile.”

Coaching & Correcting 

Age brought change in Courtois’ life. Not long after his playing career ended, he donned a coach’s whistle. He assisted Brent Wildman on Warsaw’s varsity girls soccer squad, and headed up the JV team. 

Nearly two decades of mechanical work stiffened his back, so Courtois, then in his late-30s, changed professions.

He’d always loved law enforcement, so in 2003 he became a correctional officer at Kosciusko County Jail. 

“There’s never a dull moment,” he said with a grin. 

He worked second shift, which meant he couldn’t keep coaching.

Or, so he thought.

By this time, he was a hot commodity in area soccer, one whom Warsaw boys soccer coach Scott Bauer sought with fervor. 

Courtois initially meant to help on occasion, but his boss allowed him to work around Warsaw’s soccer schedule. He took the reigns of the JV team while assisting Bauer on varsity.

The Tigers tore up the state in those years. Courtois played a role in semistate berths in 2010 and 2011, while 2012 saw the Tigers in Indianapolis as the state runners-up.

Shaking The Core

Immersed as he was in his new life, Courtois never forgot his first home. He gave money to his family as they faced the financial effects of political unrest in Haiti. 

The revolts were molehills to the mountain-sized earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010. The disaster left more than 200,000 people dead and nearly 900,000 homeless.

Courtois couldn’t get a hold of his family, and feared them dead. He then got a call from Tyler Silveus, of Warsaw, who was assembling a team to aid the shell-shocked nation.

Courtois was in. He made one more call to his brother, and relief washed over him as he learned his family was all right.

Silveus was the money man, donating medical supplies and an airplane that Warsaw’s Jon Fussle flew to Haiti. Courtois and a group of doctors and nurses flew along to help.

When Fussle flew the plane over Port-au-Prince, all they could see was a blanket of white dust covering the city.

“It was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Courtois said. “‘Everything’s gone.’”

 The dust was a pleasant sight compared to what awaited them.

The ground was littered with dead bodies from the airport to the city of Carrefour. The crew watched people die before their eyes.

Worse still, there was nowhere to bury the dead. Survivors tossed the bodies of their loved ones into the streets, where they lay for cars to run over them.

“It was almost like a nightmare,” Courtois said. “Like a war zone.” 

As he’s done so many times in his life, Courtois forged ahead. His family greeted him as he and the crew set up shop at a camp for relief workers on a banana plantation. 

One night, Courtois was sleeping on chairs at the camp when he was awoken by the shuddering earth.

Another earthquake had hit Haiti. It was a 6.3 on the Richter scale.

Everyone in the camp took off running. As Courtois felt like he was running on a waterbed, an obvious thought occurred to him: he was already outside, and there was nowhere to go.

“My biggest fear was, what if (the ground) just splits up?” he said. “You’d go down.” 

Courtois and the crew were unharmed, though, and they finished the week providing medical aid and supplies.

Those supplies put the team at risk of being robbed by desperate survivors, so Courtois took charge of security. However, it wasn’t just muggers they had to worry about. 

Haitian customs agents charged $400 for each relief plane to get in or out of the country, and Fussle smelled a shakedown on top of a legitimate due. 

The plane was stopped on its way out, and the agents came to collect their fee. 

That’s when Courtois transformed from friendly to furious. He stood down the agents with nothing more than his booming voice and imposing size.

“Frank really stepped up to the plate,” Fussle said. “It was awesome seeing, because if you’ve met Frank, he’s a big teddy bear.”

Taking The Helm

The earthquake spurred Courtois to move his family to the U.S. He had already brought his mother to Miami, and filed paperwork to get his brothers, half-sisters, nieces and nephews to the country as well. 

In 2016, after years of diligence, he finally succeeded. Some of his family lives in Warsaw, including his 19-year-old niece, Daiana Courtois.

She is a nursing student at Ivy Tech Community College, and lavished praise on her uncle for making it happen. 

“If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to go to college, because in Haiti it’s hard,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Courtois became the head coach of Warsaw’s boys soccer program. 

His first full season was in 2015, during which the Tigers had a win-loss record of 4-14. They improved last season to 13-6-2, and won the sectional championship.

Courtois is glad to win titles, but he’s more focused on teaching life lessons. He said it’s sometimes a battle to instill work ethic into the wealthy student-athletes of Kosciusko County. 

“Growing up in a third-world country, I fought for everything I own,” he said. “I’m trying to teach those kids, ‘Well, you need to work a little bit harder.’ And some of them get it, some don’t.” 

Some of those who don’t get it end up walking through the county jail in handcuffs with tearful laments to Courtois about how they should have taken his advice. 

He uses those examples as motivation to coach kids to be winners in life.

“I still preach the message,” he said. “Sometimes we have so much, and we don’t know the value of it.”

That message resonated with several former athletes, including Miguel Rivera, who played for Warsaw when Courtois was an assistant. 

Rivera, 23, is one of Warsaw’s assistant coaches. He said he learned the values of respect and helping others from Courtois.

“To work with him, I can’t ask for a better opportunity,” Rivera said. 

Giving Back

Courtois’ life is good. He has six children, and he takes his family to Warsaw Community Church on Sundays. 

While he still experiences racism from white gangs in jail, he said the community has come leaps and bounds in regard to race relations. Especially when you’re Frank Courtois.

“They see Frank, because I proved myself in this community,” he said. 

The Tigers are 7-2-3, 3-0-1 in the Northern Lakes Conference so far this season, and Courtois sees no limit for his team.

“When we start putting the ball down, and start moving the ball to the space, we are a good team,” he said. “We’ll compete with anybody in the state. And I guarantee you that.”

Though he admitted he feels spoiled – ­he said he sometimes throws uneaten food away – he hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings. 

His dream is to open an orphanage in Haiti, as the Reids did for him so many years ago.

“That’s what was implanted in me,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here, and that’s the way we need to pass it on.”