Folks around Haynesville often claim a lot of things about Alton “Red” Franklin, but former Haynesville teacher Mollie Coleman took it to another level recently when she credited the retired coach with smoothing over integration challenges at the Claiborne Parish school in the early 1970s.
“The town was split and some people here took their kids to private schools when the integration thing started. So coach Franklin put up the motto, ‘Those who stay will be champions,'” said Coleman, 81, who taught American History and girls P.E. during Franklin’s tenure. “He helped bring the town together and he didn’t discriminate between any of the players, black or white. And he did make them champions.”
That and more. During his 35 years at the helm of the Golden Tornado, Franklin racked up 11 state titles with four runner-up finishes and compiled a 366-76-8 mark. His teams had perfect seasons eight times, trailing only J.T. Curtis Jr. (with 13) in Louisiana’s all-time list.
For his success as a high school coach, Franklin will be one of six individuals honored by the board of the Ark-La-Tex Sports Museum of Champions on Aug. 2 when he is inducted at the Shreveport Convention Center. Also going in are A.L. Williams, Billy Jack Talton, Ralph Garr, Kim Mulkey and O.K. Davis during the 7 p.m. ceremony.
“Red put Haynesville on the map,” Coleman said. “You can go almost anywhere and say ‘Haynesville,’ and people will immediately say, ‘Golden Tornado.’ People associate our town with good football.”
Already an inductee into several halls of fame, Franklin said he’s excited about being in Shreveport with family and friends.
“Words can’t describe it — it’s quite an honor to be a part of something with people like A.L. Williams and Lee Hedges,” Franklin told The Times. “And especially to go in with a class that includes someone like Kim Mulkey.”
Sam Meadors, 82, is one of about 40-45 Quarterback Club members who cook hamburgers for the football team each Thursday on game weeks. Meadors, whose sons Johnny, Jimmy, James and Norman played for Franklin, said he’s been doing it pretty much every year “since the school system changed over.”
“Coach Franklin married a local girl so I got to know him through her family,” Meadors said. “When it came to football, everyone learned something if they played for him.”
Twice named the National High School Athletic Association’s Region 5 coach of the year, Franklin’s teams reached the state playoffs in 31 of his 35 seasons. From 1990-96, the Golden Tornado were nearly unstoppable, going 96-4.
“My boys won championships,” Meadors said.
Franklin, who turned over the coaching reins to his son, David, in 2002 was inducted in the Louisiana High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
He still patrols the sidelines at Golden Tornado practices while serving as a deacon at the First Baptist Church of Haynesville, where he also works with children in the Awana’s program. He was feeding his dogs on Saturday afternoon and talking about playing football for one season at the University of Alabama.
“There was no animosity in why I left. I was just a little fish in a great big ole pond,” Franklin said. “I could have played a little bit at tight end and I enjoyed the football thing there, but the classroom thing was a whole different deal. There were more people in one class than there were in my entire high school (Bibb HS of Centreville, Alabama).”
He sat out a year, transferred to Louisiana College and played for the Wildcats while earning a degree in education in 1961. He coached briefly at Marksville and Springhill before settling in at Haynesville, the hometown of his wife, Beth, in 1966.
He is an active member of the Louisiana High School Coaches Association and served one year as LHSCA president (1976-1977). The Wildcat Athletic Association inducted Franklin as a charter member of the Louisiana College Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.
Franklin doesn’t remember a lot about the integration process at his school, except that the kids joked with each other as they came together on football trips. And he doesn’t recall any problems.
“I don’t know if it was any of my doings or not — I just happened to be there when it came along, and the good Lord led me to the right way to do things,” he said. “I guess that’s the biggest portion of it right there.”
The “those who stay will be champions” sign, a quote borrowed from Bo Schembechler, still hangs in the locker room at Haynesville High — a tribute to what needed to be said in the late ’60s and to the legacy that Red Franklin ultimately built in Claiborne Parish.
“Some people think that means they’ll be state champions, but not necessarily,” he said. “If you stay and go through the things you would normally go through in a football season, somewhere along the way you can call yourself a champion. That was my idea behind the thing.”