Passing the coaching torch

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 14, 2008

The Franklin-Southampton Youth Football League has been a tradition in these parts since the early 1970s. With the tradition comes the passing of time and many of the league’s coaches have been at it for many years.

One coach, Rob Carter, who has led the Franklin Mustangs for all but three years since 1980, has decided he is going to hang up his coaching shoes.

“It’s time for somebody else to step up to the plate. I really wish a younger person was interested, somebody who is full of energy and has football knowledge,” Carter said from his den, which is packed full of memorabilia from the league, including a ball from the 1996 season in which Franklin outscored its opponents 255-0. “Most of my assistant coaches think I’m not getting out. I have news for them.”

Roosevelt Hill, who is an assistant coach with the Boykins Bulldogs, the team that won the 2007 championship, is now 66.

“I coached my son my first year in the league and now he’s 40,” Hill said. “We’ve got dedicated coaches and I’m about the only one who don’t work. They come out in the afternoon after work. They are giving up their time for the kids.”

The elder Hill, a former equipment operator for Southampton County has weathered a stroke, and has passed on the torch to his son, Chris.

The league started in the early 70s for children ages 10-13 when the area elementary schools dropped their football teams. Packey Jervey of Franklin and S.P. Camp from Southampton County were instrumental in forming the league.

In the early days, games were held on Thursday nights and played in Sebrell. Eventually, all of the games were played in Franklin.

Today, the league plays its games at Franklin, Southampton High School, Windsor High School and Lakeland High School on Thursday nights. Teams are located in Franklin, Courtland, Holland, Windsor, Boykins and Ivor.

“Football is an expensive sport and some teams dropped out and new teams would come in,” Carter said. “It has sort of stayed the traditional six-team league. It’s a pretty stable league now and we travel. It is very expensive for me. I have so many kids, I have to take buses. A lot of times that is the only way I can get them there.”

The league has been a feeder program for the local high schools. Among those who are alumni of the league include Todd Faison, who played quarterback at Christopher Newport University, and Donnell Babb, currently at Hampton University, and a member of the 2004 Franklin High School state championship team.

“Todd played for me,” Carter said. “His father and Todd’s grandfather were coaches before I ever coached, back in the late 70s when there was a Hunterdale team.”

Besides the friendly competition among the teams, both Hill and Carter acknowledge that kids are in a different world than they were just 20 years ago and that football helps keep youths off the streets.

“Every day, I had something to do,” Hill said about his childhood. “I didn’t have time to get into trouble. We need to give these kids something to do. We don’t have a rec center in Southampton County. Those kids that aren’t playing football, they’d be out on the streets.”

“It keeps them off the streets from the end of August to the middle of November,” Carter said.

The league will also have to continue to raise funds, Carter said. It costs between $150 and $200 per player for uniform costs. The league does receive some funding from the Camp Foundations, but the rest comes from gate receipts and fund-raisers.

“These teams have got to realize that you can’t wait for different organizations to give you money. You’ve got to go out there and earn it,” Carter said. “We’ve done fund-raisers — barbecues, golf tournaments, fish fries. We get a little funding from the Camp Foundations. That’s not enough to run a football league.”

New coaches who may be interested in coming into the league could perhaps take the insight of Hill, who still enjoys stepping out onto the field, but also sees a purpose.

“In my opinion, what we are put here for is to help somebody and make this a better world, a better place than when you came,” said Hill. “It teaches football and how to be an adult, and hopefully they will stay out of trouble. That’s the main thing.”