First round of Athletic Hall of Fame inductees honored at Friday’s game.
Before the homecoming game against East Henderson, the track at the Panther Pit was lined with Franklin High School legends. Last year the FHS Athletic Booster Club took nominations from the public and then narrowed down the search to six inductees, who each embody the pride and dedication it takes to be a Panther. Those individuals were honored as the first round of inductees to Franklin's Athletic Hall of Fame.
The first honoree was not only recognized for his accomplishments as an athlete at Franklin High School, but was honored for his contributions to athletics on the collegiate level and beyond. Jim Taylor graduated from FHS and played both football and track for the Panthers. After high school, he went on to attend Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina University, playing football for both.
After college, he exchanged his helmet for a whistle and joined the sidelines at Polk Central and then at Shelby as a coach. While at Shelby, Taylor led the football team to 10 conference titles, two state championships and two state runner-up finishes.
Since 2005, Taylor has served as the county athletic director for Cleveland County Schools. He has served as the former president of the North Carolina Coaches Association and current executive secretary of the North Carolina Football Coaches Association.
In addition to being inducted into FHS' Hall of Fame, Taylor is also one of this year's inductees into the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.
The second induction was posthumously awarded to Tom Raby last Friday night. A life long resident of Macon County, Coach Raby began his career playing basketball under Coach Lowe at FHS. After high school, he played basketball for two years at Western Carolina University before returning to Franklin to coach boys’ varsity basketball in 1961 when he was only 26 years old. For more than a decade, Raby coached basketball for the Panthers and secured an overall winning percentage of 75.9 percent, and a win total that still stands as a school record.
In addition to boys’ basketball, Raby stepped up to coach girls varsity basketball, varsity baseball, JV football and varsity football. He also was responsible for starting the track program for the Panthers.
In addition to mentoring students on the court, he later went on to touch students’ lives when he assumed the role as Assistant Principal at FHS. Those who didn't know his face certainly knew his voice as he coined the phrase, “Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the Panther Pit,” a welcome that he did before football games at the Pit for 36 years.
His wife, Joyce Raby, his son, Todd Raby and his grandson, Thomas Raby accepted the award.
Friday night's third inductee, Paula Corbin Kahn, continued the trend of athletes from the 1970s who serve as the first round of Hall of Fame honorees.
Kahn was known at FHS for her skills on the basketball court and for her career point record of 1,100 points, which was earned before there was a 3 point shot. Kahn represented the Panthers her sophomore, junior and senior years as All-Smoky Mountain Conference. She was also named All-Western North Carolina as a senior.
Kahn made FHS history when she became the first female athlete to receive an athletic scholarship and in 1975 signed to play basketball at Mars Hill.
Once again securing her place in Panther history, Kahn stood as the lone female being inducted into the first round of the FHS Hall of Fame.
Shawn Bryson was honored for being multi-talented and excelling at several sports while at FHS. Bryson received conference honors in football, basketball, track and baseball and was named Conference Player of the Year in basketball as well as recognized as an All-State performer in track.
Bryson currently stands as the school record holder in football for career kick-off returns for touchdowns and in baseball for career triples and stolen bases.
After graduating from FHS, Bryson went on to play football at the University of Tennessee and in 1998, he was one of four captains for the 1998 National Championship Team. In 1999, Bryson was a third round NFL draft pick for the Buffalo Bills and later played for the Detroit Lions.
After his NFL career ended, Bryson returned to the University of Tennessee where he received his bachelor's degree in political science. He is now on the coaching staff at Lenior-Rhyne University. Bryson's mother Susie Bryson accepted the award on his behalf.
The 1971 varsity football team as a whole was inducted into the Hall of Fame for their efforts in starting a tradition of success at FHS. During the 1971-72 school year, a group of young men led by Coach Pat Pattillo and Assistant Coach Joe Hall, became the first football team to win the Smoky Mountain Conference Championship and go to the playoffs.
The team came together during a weeklong summer training camp held at Iotla School and formed a bond that is still strong today. To stir community support and boost team morale, each Sunday, the team would go to a different church as a team. The relationship and teamwork first formed by the 1971 football team would carry over for future generations and have inspired players over the last 40 decades to suit up for the Panthers and give their all in the Panther Pit.
Joining members of the 1971 team on the track Friday night, was the cheerleading squad who encouraged the players throughout their journey as conference champs.
Following in the footsteps of of the '71 team, the 1976 varsity football team was also inducted the Hall of Fame last Friday night. With the start of the new season, the '76 team had high hopes that as they faced Murphy, Swain and Sylva-Webster in the Smoky Mountain Conference, that they would prevail victorious.
The season started off with a loss against Robbinsville, but hope was momentarily restored when the Panthers beat Andrews. Sylva-Webster stomped the Panthers during the conference opener, and FHS was sent home with another loss, and the last game of the season after facing Swain High quarterback, Doug Plemmons.
Determined to turn the season around, Franklin rallied against the Murphy Bulldogs and narrowly brought home the 23-20 victory. The 76' Panthers finished the regular season without suffering another loss, and were named conference champs. Franklin won the first play-off game against Avery with a 29-0 victory, and continued the streak when they travelled to Charlotte to face Charlotte Catholic and won 27-14. With the weather on their side (being forced to play in a monsoon), the Panthers faced the Shrine Bowl quarterback and secured a 13-0 victory, and finally, after facing down Erwin, Franklin won the last game of the season, 35-28 and became the 1976 State Champions.
In addition to honoring the contributions of the athletes honored last Friday night, Rhonda Guest Blanton was recognized for her involvement with the booster club and for being instrumental in creating programs at FHS that will be remembered for decades to come. Blanton attended every sporting event at FHS last year except for diving, and hopes to be able to see that team in action this year. She was a strong supporter of the dance team this year and is hoping to help start an archery team for the Panthers soon.
Growing up with an older brother playing multiple sports for the Panthers, including the 1971 football team, Blanton was always by her father's side during the practices and ball games. Two years ago, Blanton questioned why FHS did not have an Athletic Hall of Fame and quickly went to work to make it happen.
In recognition of her efforts and hard work for FHS, Principal Chris Baldwin presented her with a bouquet of red and white flowers last Friday night.