Legendary Hayden, Franklin High coach dies

Published 9:46 am Friday, June 3, 2011

GREENSBORO, N.C.—Even before Sam Jones arrived in 1970 to teach at Franklin Public Schools, he’d heard about the legendary Peggy Wilkins — a strict teacher and coach whose 334 wins and 62 losses ranks as the best record in Virginia high school basketball history.

Dennis Sumblin escorts former Franklin High School teacher and coach Peggy Wilkins into the school’s gym during a June 2008 ceremony to rename it The Peggy H. Wilkins Gymnasium in her honor. Wilkins died Monday. -- FILE

“When I finally got to meet her, she was all that I’d heard about,” said Jones, a former Franklin High School principal who will attend Wilkins’ funeral in Greensboro, N.C., today.

Wilkins died Monday in Greensboro, where she’d moved home to in 2009.

“It saddened me very much,” Jones said of hearing about her death. “I heard she had been ill for awhile.”

Wilkins came to the Franklin schools in 1960 as a physical education teacher having never coached a team in any sport. Wilkins became the girls’ basketball coach not knowing a thing about the game and now holds the state record for winning percentage at 89 percent.

Franklin High School in June 2008 renamed its gym The Peggy H. Wilkins Gymnasium after she amassed a 191-16 record in 12 seasons at Franklin. Wilkins also coached at Hayden High School, compiling a 143-46 record.

Wilkins coached every one of her Franklin High School teams to a district championship beginning in 1970-71, the first year after integration of the city schools.

She won regional championships five times, was the state runner-up in 1979-80 and won the state title in 1981 after a 25-0 season; Franklin scored 80 or more points seven times that season, including a 102-35 win over Kennedy.

Jones and Wilkins had taught together for several years.

“She was a person who really loved children and loved their parents,” Jones said. “She was strict and wanted students to take full advantage of their education. She didn’t tolerate a lot of foolishness.”

She had even less tolerance for adults who didn’t help their children, Jones said.

A group of people, including Jones and Wilkins, used to go to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament.

“We would go to games together,” Jones said. “There was nothing like Peggy Wilkins. We call her ‘mama’ sometimes. She kept us in the loop and guided us.”

Longtime Southampton High School Football Coach Littleton Parker remembers Wilkins as a teacher from when he attended Hayden High School. He also remembers her as a coach as he moved into the same ranks.

“She was a good teacher and a great basketball coach,” said Parker, the athletic director of Southampton High School. “She was an outstanding individual and a mentor to the young ladies in Franklin. They wanted to be like her. She set an image for them.”

In 1976, Wilkins received the Distinguished Service Award from the Franklin City Council. She was honored as an Influential Woman of the Year by Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in 2009 as having a positive impact on Franklin youth. Also in 2009, she was honored as A Living Legend by the Black Heritage Program.