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Clifton Franklin: One coach’s passion for players sees field named for him

PROGRESS 2023: What’s In A Name

“Everything he did, he did it 100 percent and put everything he had into it … People respected him because he worked hard and put in so much effort and loved what he did.”

That’s how Pam Humphres remembers her father Clifton Franklin, a former Vina coach for whom – along with Granville Hester, another beloved Red Devil coach – the stadium is named.

“I know he was honored that they would do that,” said son Ben Franklin. “He was always proud to be from Vina. He loved Vina and took a lot of pride in Vina.”

Clifton Franklin was a Vina coach for more than three decades, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s. Ben said he and his three siblings – Humphres, as well brothers Sam and Clifton Jr. – were all students at Vina during their father’s tenure there. They had a front-row seat to his impact at the school, particularly on the football field.

“He had a lot of success,” Ben said. “I don’t think he ever had a losing season.” The Vina native and VHS alum taught government, history and driver’s education, but the game was his passion. “I think a football coach is pretty much all he ever wanted to be.”

The elder Franklin was in the Navy in the mid-50s, an enlisted man, working as a firefighter and in the engine room, by Humphres recollection. Following his military service he went to college on the GI bill, attending Itawamaba Community College – where he met his wife-to-be, Betty – before earning his undergraduate degree from the University of North Alabama. He earned his master’s degree in political science from Ole Miss.

“Above all, he was someone who really valued hard work,” said Humphres. “He grew up on a farm where they plowed mules and had a really strong work ethic, and he carried that into coaching.” Ben said that work ethic could also be found in their mother – “She was always very supportive of him. She helped him in a lot of ways – taking care of things on the farm when he couldn’t be here and all those sorts of things” – and Humphres pointed out their father believed in hard work’s role in developing students and players. “He wanted to help people … The things he did were typically connected to helping other people.”

That desire did not go unfelt or unappreciated by the people the elder Franklin impacted during his life. Some two decades after his retirement in 1990, Humphres said she was inspired to host an event connecting her father to his former players.

“I had went to a coach’s funeral, and everyone got up and was telling stuff about that coach, and I thought, ‘You know what? I want my dad to hear this – to know this before he passes away.’” She felt sure her father’s players would have their own stories to share about his influence in their lives – and she was right.

“She knew a lot of his former players thought highly of him, and she wanted him, while he was still able, to talk to them and be around him,” Ben explained. The event was held at the Vina Community Center, which filled to the brim with former players. “He loved seeing them and talking with them. He never forgot them … It was great that he got a chance to reunite with all those players before he got sick and died. He was a father-figure to a lot of folks. He served in that kind of role.”

Humphres said their father “always wanted to show those boys what was right not just in football but in life, and he helped so many of them.”

Ben said one of his father’s rules will always stand out to him: “You never walked onto the football field. You always ran,” Ben said. “He always ran, and he always expected us to run. You were disrespecting the game if you walked onto the field.”

It was an outgrowth of his commitment to hard work. “He’d always say, ‘They might be better than we are, but they aren’t going to outdo our hearts and our trying,’” Humphres said. “He always put everything into it.”

The stadium was named for Franklin and Hester in 2001 following remodeling. Franklin was present for the dedication, as was Humphres.

“They called him on the field, and I think Granville Hester’s wife was there, and they made a presentation about the field,” Humphres said. “He was just thrilled. He was beaming that night.”

The elder Franklin passed away in 2016, leaving behind a legacy that won’t be forgotten by those who knew him.

“He always tried to emphasize that you should always do your best – not just at football but everything. Do it with everything you have,” said Ben.

“He loved what he did,” Humphres added. “He loved the school, and he loved the boys. He wanted them to be respected, and he wanted them to learn.”

According to VHS, Hester was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was the recipient of the Silver Star. He served as football and basketball coach at Vina High School in the 1950s, to great success. His son Randy Hester was a player for Clifton Franklin and was Vina’s school board member for some years.

The Vina facility also bears the name Johny Wayne “Chubb” Childers, with the field named for him.


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