Franklin Zirkle: Program Director
The Hilltopper Program was founded by Franklin Zirkle, a former collegiate and high school official in the Triangle who decided to pursue his passion for coaching, something that he initially found at Guilford College in 1980. Coach “Z” grew up at Woodberry Forest Prep School in Virginia, where we was exposed to the game in the early 60’s. He was frequently a scorer and on field clock boy until he was literally run over in a heated Woodberry/Episcopal rivalry game. Both of Z’s parents were teachers, so he moved to Swannanoa, North Carolina for his sophomore and junior seasons. He may be the oldest remaining member of Coach Roy Williams coaching staff from Charles D. Owen High School, where he founded and coached the high school cross country team as a player coach. Coach Z enrolled at Guilford College and after rooming for a year with Guilford’s legendary All American Bryan Savage, Z decided to tryout for the nationally ranked Quakers after a summer of playing lacrosse at the University of New Mexico.
The Guilford teams of the 80’s were nationally ranked and was coached by N.C. Lacrosse Hall of Fame member Geoff Miller. The Quakers routinely beat Lynchburg, Hampden Sydney and other rivals. With only one lacrosse classification, the Quakers played and beat opponents like Ohio State, Dartmouth, Salisbury State, and other current Division 1 programs. Upon graduation, Zirkle coached the women’s team for one season and assisted Geoff Miller for two seasons as an assistant men’s coach. The Quakers even defeated Duke University after many attempts in Durham 13-9 in 1984, a huge achievement for the program.
Zirkle took over the East Chapel Hill program in 2005, after officiating the state championship East game against Mt. Tabor (one of three NCHSAA Championship games he refereed). While that team lost nineteen seniors, it had a talented nucleus returning and Zirkle assembled an impressive staff his first season and continued to hire talented assistant coaches during his tenure that included three state championship appearances, with one title in 2006. The team competed in semi-final games in all but two of his seven seasons with the Wildcats. The 2011 team lost in the finals and included both of his sons as players, and current Hilltopper coache’s Jacob Manning and Daniel Thayer. While the State Championship was a great accomplishment, Zirkle, Manning, and Thayer were also extremely proud of their upset victory over Cold Spring Harbor High School at Navy Field on the UNC campus. That respected New Yrok opponent, loaded with Division 1 talent, went on to win the Long Island Championship. The Wildcats laid claim to one of the biggest win’s by any North Carolina high school team against a traditional “hot bed” opponent.
Zirkle founded the Toppers in 2011 when he was disenchanted with the local travel scene offerings. He wanted to create a travel program using past experiences had had as a “travel” dad. He used his experiences assembling coaching staffs to recruit talented players and coaches. Early on, the program featured players from Greensboro to Wilmington, and the entire Triangle area. The first team practiced in Graham, North Carolina. As the program grew, North Carolina Central University became the base of operations with two lighted turf fields and a convenient central location for families. In 2015 Coach Z returned to the sidelines at Leesville Road High School taking over a new program that had been successfully established by Jeremy Fullbright and Jeff Spear. His Leesville teams have won and competed for conference titles every season, and advanced as far as the State Quarterfinals.
During his coaching career, Zirkle has coached All Americans, Academic All Americans, Conference Players of the Year, and even a member of the US Lacrosse U-19 team that won the world title in 2006 in Vancouver, Canada. As a high school coach, his career victories are within a wisp of 200 over an eleven year period, with a winning percentage of 78%.
The Zirkle family is heavily involved in the program, as both Chandler and Hartford are coaches in the Hilltopper program. Both have served on Z’s Leesville Road staff at one time, and Chandler is now a head coach at Orange High School. Kimberly Zirkle has been a driving force, attending almost every event and lending her expertise in public relations and organizational development.
“The Topper program takes great pride in our staff and their commitment to the game of lacrosse and our passion for developing players. We take great pride in our community, having founded a non-profit that allows disadvantaged players to have an opportunity to play lacrosse in middle school and high school. We even created the Bull City All Star game to honor the late Tony Cullen, and use this game to help expand the game locally. We are committed to honoring the game and it’s traditions, while creating lasting memories and friendships for our players and their parents.”
Daniel is the head coach of our 2022 team. Daniel grew up in Reston, Virginia where he began playing lacrosse in the 6th grade and continued through college. He was a starting goalie on his high schoool team for four years, a two-time MVP, and two-time captain. He was named All Conference in both his Junior and Senior years. During his Senior year, he set a record for most saves in a single season. Thayer played collegiately for Mary Washington University, a Division III program located in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He started his coaching career as a collegian, working several Nike Summer Camps.
Daniel is a teacher in the Orange County School sysstem. He joined Coach Z at East Chapel Hill, and was a member of that staff with Jacob Manning. After several years at Carrboro High School, where he was a Defensive Coordinator, Thayer returned to East Chapel Hill as an assistant for the varsity team. Coach Thayer has worked with our 2019 team for the past two years. He is now currently coaching at Stanford Middle School where he teaches for the the 2017 season.
Chandler Zirkle is the head lacrosse coach at Orange High School. Chandler has worked with every age group since the Hilltoppers inception. He is a graduate of Guilford College and was an All ODAC Conference Academic team for four consecutive seasons and also spent a year on the Guilford College coaching staff. Chandler earned his masters degree in 2016 in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina.
As a native of North Carolina, Chandler completed a very successful high school career at East Chapel Hill, participating in a NCHSAA championship game and he led the Nation in assists his senior year according to Maxpreps.com. He currently holds the single season NCHSAA record for assists. He was named Conference Player of the Year and received top State Post Season recognition in 2011. He played on several select travel teams and has worked on the staff at many collegiate summer camps.
Coach Manning is the head of our 2021 elite team. Coach Manning is a current teacher at and head coach at Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Coach Manning helped begin the Carolina Hilltoppers before moving to Seattle for two years where he was the head of the Seattle Preparatory School’s Program and a coach in the Seattle Stars lacrosse organization. Coach Manning has also been the head coach at Athens Drive High School and served as an assistant under Coach Zirkle at East Chapel Hill High School during their state championship runs.Coach Manning played collegiately at Division III Occidential College in Los Angeles. He was an outstanding goalie and still takes his spot between the pipes as an adult player.