By Hannah Holzer
Luke Zepponi, a junior at Abraham Lincoln High School in the Sunset District, was recently awarded a $1,000 prize after he placed third in the San Francisco Historical Society’s annual Fracchia Prize writing competition.
Luke Zepponi (center) posing with his proud parents, displays the third-place award he won for his essay in a contest sponsored by the San Francisco Historical Society. Courtesy photo..
Named after Charles Fracchia, the founder of the Historical Society, the Fracchia Prize was established to both cultivate the next generation of San Francisco historians and to give the city’s high school students an opportunity to make a difference in their communities.
This year, in honor of Golden Gate Park’s 150th anniversary, the Historical Society asked San Francisco high school students to write an essay with the prompt: One perfect day in Golden Gate Park.
“If you’re going to take somebody on a little walking tour of the park, where would you go?” asked Lana Costantini, the Historical Society’s director of education and publishing.
Students were first asked to write briefly about the early history of Golden Gate Park before launching into the bulk of their essay: a themed and guided walking tour of the park.
Challenged to select six to eight specific sites to stop at during their walking tour, each student also had to detail the history of each stop they chose. Zepponi centered his award-winning essay on his favorite pastime in Golden Gate Park – horseshoe pitching.
His essay, entitled “It’s a Ringer! One Perfect Day in Golden Gate Park,” guides the reader through a figure-eight-shaped walking tour. Starting at the Horseshoe Courts near the park’s northeastern corner, Zepponi’s walking tour then stops at the Horse and Horseshoe Pitcher Sculpture, Lick Hill, Phil Arnold Oak Woodlands Nature Trail, Coon Hollow, the vista from the Oak Woodlands Trail and the Fuchsia Dell.
“At the top of Lick Hill, looking down, you get a nice overlook view of the Horseshoe Courts and the Oak Woodlands surrounding them,” Zepponi wrote. “On most weekends, you may hear bongo drums coming from musicians gathered at Sharon Meadow.”
After hearing about the Fracchia Prize just two weeks before essays were due, Zepponi said he had to “speed it up” in order to get his submission in on time. Luckily, his lifelong involvement and interest in horseshoe pitching aided him in his research. And fortunately, he had another horseshoe pitching expert at his disposal – his dad.
“My dad used to live in Napa as a kid and he used to play horseshoes with his siblings,” Zepponi said. “He found out that the Horseshoe Courts (in Golden Gate Park) were such a hidden gem. He wanted to get more into it because he liked doing it, so he founded a club and got members and now we have tournaments.”
In his essay, Zepponi talks about an organization called the “Golden Gate Horseshoe Club” that was active in the park and held regional tournaments from the 1930s until 1989. After the courts fell into disrepair over the next two decades, Zepponi’s dad worked to restore them, ultimately founding the “San Francisco Horseshoe Pitching Club” in 2008. The following year, in 2009, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom rededicated the courts.
Speaking over Zoom, Zepponi showed a photo of himself around the age of 5 standing at the Golden Gate Park horseshoe pits wearing a green jacket and holding a horseshoe. Since then, Zepponi has competed and placed in local, state and world horseshoe pitching tournaments. He has also founded a horseshoe club at his school.
“It’s definitely doing better this year,” Zepponi said of his club. “A lot of my friends stay inside and can’t do anything, so I think it’s a really good way (to get outside).”
Costantini, who also acted as one of the Fracchia Prize judges, said Zepponi’s essay stood out from the others because it mentioned “so many out-of-the-way places that people hadn’t heard of.”
Addressing all three of the top finalists at a virtual awards ceremony on Sept. 22, San Francisco Recreation and Park Commission President Mark Buell expressed a similar sentiment.
“I read quite a few of these essays and … I learned a lot about Golden Gate Park; I thought I knew everything,” Buell said.
Zepponi and second-place winner Indigo Mudbhary both said their earliest memories of Golden Gate Park are of playing soccer at the Beach Chalet Fields (the two also happen to know each other outside of the Fracchia Prize competition: they are practically neighbors, their moms are good friends).
Although he no longer plays soccer, Zepponi now enjoys getting paid to referee soccer games.
“I get to ref these little kids who are in third grade like [I was], so it brings back memories,” Zepponi said.
This was the second year the Fracchia Prize was awarded. As with last year’s competition, funding was provided by Ray Lent and his partners at Placer Partners, including the cost of the award money for the three finalists and the cost of mailing and advertising.
Costantini said the Historical Society briefly considered calling off this year’s competition because of COVID chaos, but instead they decided to amp up advertising efforts and extend the deadline. Ultimately, there were a total of 25 submissions from public and private high schools throughout the city, including Washington, Lowell, Lincoln, Saint Ignatius, Balboa, Lick-Wilmerding, Gateway, Galileo and Sacred Heart Cathedral.
“I was happy with the number that we got,” Costantini said. “I wish it was 100, but I’ll deal with 25.”
Speaking to the high quality of this year’s submissions, Costantini emphasized how impressed she was that the young applicants were able to create an effective walking tour that was also tied together thematically.
“You can easily talk about the facts of a place and how it came to be, but to weave it into a narrative that connects who we are with where we’ve come from and what the park means to us today in the context of its history, that’s more of a challenge,” she said.
In addition to Costantini, this year’s panel of judges included high school and college teachers, two individuals from San Francisco Recreation and Parks, a member of the board of directors for the walking tour program City Guides as well as Charles Fracchia himself.
At the virtual awards ceremony, Mayor London Breed honored Zepponi, first-place winner Winnie Quock and Mudbhary.
“I want to make sure you remember this incredible moment and take advantage of every opportunity that’s presented to you,” Breed told the three award winners. “You all can be the hope for a better future because of what you bring to the table and because of how you touch the hearts and minds of people.”
In addition to his passion for horseshoe pitching, soccer reffing and coding, Zepponi has discovered additional interests thanks to courses at his high school.
During his freshman year, after taking a course focused on architecture, construction and engineering, Zepponi discovered that he could combine his pre-existing drawing skills with a new-found interest in architecture. Zepponi said he has also enjoyed marketing and entrepreneurship classes. He is considering pursuing a career in either marketing or computer technology.
Zepponi’s winning essay will be published in the San Francisco Historical Society’s newsletter, Panorama. The guided walking tours created by Zepponi, Quock and Mudbhary will be made available to the public in Spring 2021 in the format of a brochure as well as a mobile app.
For more information about the San Francisco Historical Society, visit www.sfhistory.org.
Categories: Golden Gate Park