Sumblin: Influencing success in students’ lives

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Editor’s note: This is the seventh in a series of seven articles, each highlighting one of the 2023 inductees to the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence.

The Franklin Community Wall of Excellence gained eight new names via its 2023 class.

Those names included Mona M. Sumblin, Jennifer Sing, Frank M. Rabil, Clyde Elwood Parker, David T. Lease, Carolyn and Waverly Lawrence and Travis W. Felts.

The seventh annual Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Induction Dinner and Ceremony took place Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Cypress Cove Country Club.

As noted in the event’s program, through the vision of some local Franklin City Public Schools alumni and school personnel, the Franklin Community Wall of Excellence Inc. was established in 2016 as a program to honor former Franklin and Hayden high school students, administrators, teachers and staff who have excelled or distinguished themselves through personal and/or professional success, as well as to recognize those community members who have made significant contributions to the public schools in Franklin.

“The Wall” is located at Franklin High School, adjacent to the gymnasium, a Wall of Excellence news release stated. Names and photos of each inductee are displayed for generations of Franklin High School students and community members to see as they walk by on their way to class or an event at FHS.

MONA M. SUMBLIN

Sumblin was inducted onto the Wall of Excellence under the category of Outstanding Service. 

As the printed program for the induction dinner and ceremony highlighted, the majority of Sumblin’s outstanding service came as a longtime teacher and coach for Franklin City Public Schools. Before retiring in 2020, she taught in the division for 39 years and was highly decorated for her work with students in the classroom and on the basketball court.

Her history with athletics began as a standout participant. She attended Greensville County High School and graduated in 1976, having earned an athletic scholarship to play basketball at Virginia State University. 

Sumblin made athletics a focus of her education at the college level, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in physical education at VSU and a Master of Science degree in education with a major in adapted physical education at Indiana University.

Sumblin’s tenure with FCPS began in 1981, and the induction’s printed program provided an extended list of awards she earned and accomplishments she achieved between then and 2020.

She was hired to teach health and physical education, adapted physical education and drivers education to the students at Franklin High School.

Since 1966, FHS has had only two female basketball coaches: the late Peggy H. Wilkins, after whom the school’s gymnasium is named, and Sumblin.

Early on in her coaching tenure, Sumblin served as head coach of the FHS junior varsity girls basketball team and as an assistant coach for the varsity girls team, which was led by Wilkins.

Sumblin learned from Wilkins and was part of her staff on the varsity girls team in 1981 when the squad won the state championship.

At the induction ceremony, Wall of Excellence Board of Directors Vice President Brian Hedgepeth said, “In business or in sports, I won’t say it’s easy, but it’s definitely a lot less difficult to take over a situation that’s troubled, one that’s broke, one that needs to be fixed — it’s just not going in the right direction. But this girl (Mona) decided to take over a basketball program that was one of the best in the state and coached by a legend, one of our first inductees into the Wall of Excellence, Peggy Wilkins.”

Lahoma Jones was a player of Sumblin’s back in the 1980s who introduced her at the ceremony, and she explained how Sumblin’s daunting task went.

“I remember our first few days of basketball practice and being captivated by this young and energetic coach, not only because she still played but her knowledge of the game was top-notch,” Jones said of Sumblin. “She took a group of young ladies who had raw talent and molded us over the next four years to achieve something that very few are able to do — win a state championship.

Jones said, “There’s a rich legacy of winning for girls basketball at FHS, and Coach Sumblin wanted to meet or exceed those expectations, and I’m a testament that she did just that.”

The printed program stated that during her career as a head coach, Sumblin guided girls basketball teams to many broken records, and there were many championships won, including 10 district titles, five regional titles and a state title in 1986.

There were also many years in which the Lady Broncos may not have won the title but were still among the best, with six district runner-up finishes, three regional runner-up finishes and eight state tournament appearances.

She had more than 400 career wins as a coach, earning the title of District Coach of the Year seven times and Regional Coach of the Year four times.

Further coaching honors included her being chosen to guide the Virginia High School Coaches Association East Division All-Star Team and the Boo Williams AAU Division I All-Star Team. She was selected as an assistant and as a head coach for those squads.

Jones noted that Sumblin also coached softball and track at FHS.

The induction’s printed program highlighted that Sumblin’s most distinguished honor was being selected by Region 1B principals and athletic directors for the 2019-20 Virginia High School League Regional Award of Merit.

Her abilities as an instructor were lauded in a special way in 2016 when she was named Teacher of the Year at FHS.

Sumblin helped many student-athletes have opportunities similar to those that she enjoyed as a student. Many of her players were named to all-district, all-region and all-state teams and went on to earn athletic scholarships to play college basketball.

“I fondly remember her making sure that those of us who wanted to go to the next level would have that opportunity,” Jones said, recalling how one of her classmates had a visit to Virginia Union University scheduled by Sumblin to give the VUU coach a chance to see and potentially recruit her.

Sumblin asked Jones if she wanted to tag along for the trip to Richmond, and Jones agreed, simply as a ride-along.

However, Jones was able to shoot around during the visit as well, and she said she is sure a lot was said between Sumblin and VUU’s coach, but by the end of the visit, both Jones and her friend were offered full scholarships to play at VUU.

“Sumblin has touched countless lives while serving with Franklin City Public Schools,” Wall of Excellence officials stated in the printed program. 

“Many players carry their experiences and all of the life lessons learned playing basketball, softball and track for Coach Sumblin,” Jones said, “and as true students of hers, we also did not disappoint in the classroom or professionally. What she instilled in us helped many young ladies to achieve things never dreamed.”

She then read off a significant list of students who became successes at FHS, college and life thanks to Sumblin’s influence.

Jones concluded the list with herself, noting that she took that free education she received from VUU courtesy of the scholarship and graduated magna cum laude and third in her class. She is now experiencing a 30-plus career as an analyst with the U.S. Department of Defense.

“I could go on and on with success stories that are a result of Coach Sumblin and her influencing our lives,” Jones said.

The program also noted that she is a very active and contributing member of the community. 

She volunteers for the American Red Cross and recently reached a key milestone in blood donation, giving a gallon of her own blood to the organization.

Sumblin opened her speech by going back to when she was a child, noting that her dad was not going to let her play basketball.

“He wouldn’t sign my physical; he said I was too short,” she said, prompting laughter from those at the induction dinner and ceremony. “He wouldn’t let me play, so I had to set him up. So what I did… I waited until one of his friends was over, and so I brought my physical out again, and I asked him to sign it, and his friend said, ‘Oh, man, go on, let her play.’ So that’s how I got to play.”

She noted that her entire teaching and coaching career had been spent at Franklin High School, which is where she also met her husband, Dennis Sumblin, with whom she has helped coach a variety of different sports.

“So I’m extremely grateful to have my name forever inducted there (at FHS) via the Wall of Excellence,” she said. “It is extremely rewarding to have been examined by the community and found worthy of such a prestigious recognition.”

She stated that no one gets anywhere in life or does anything all by themselves. 

“Thus, I first want to thank God for all the wonderful opportunities He gave me and is still giving me throughout my life, especially in the coaching arena,” she said.

She thanked her family — highlighting her two sisters who were present at the induction — for having always been “the backbone and foundation of the successes that I’ve been afforded.”

She said, “Being the last born of my five siblings — notice I said ‘last born,’ I didn’t say ‘baby,’ never been one of those — I had to learn many life skills to hold my own.

“For example, I had to learn how to be tough,” she said. “Translate to coaching — it’s not for the weak at heart. I’ve learned how to forgive and forget. Coaching translation — you have to forgive and forget all the criticisms that you get that comes with your coaching style, and maybe a few times yelling at folk. I also learned how to give and take — that’s a whole chapter, so we don’t have time.

“But most of all, I learned how to be steadfast and to persevere in whatever you’re going through or dealing with,” she said.

She thanked her sisters for always supporting her in everything she has done, and she thanked all the girls — and the boys from an eighth grade boys team she led — for giving her the chance to be their coach.

She thanked and highlighted the players who were key to the 1986 state championship win, giving special emphasis to Jones.

Sumblin thanked her brother-in-law, FHS principals and others who helped facilitate her successful career. On the list were a couple of fellow Class of 2023 Wall of Excellence inductees.

“To Carolyn and Waverly Lawrence — thank you for all the young ladies you sent our way from your middle school programs,” she said.

She also thanked former FHS Athletic Director David T. Lease for giving her the opportunity to coach.

“Technically I haven’t worked a day in my life because I’ve done what I was gifted to do — playing, teaching and coaching sports,” Sumblin said. “Thanks again to the Wall of Excellence Committee for this awesome honor, and thanks, Dad, for allowing me to play.”