Bill Franklin was born to run. He grew up near Epworth, Georgia and spent countless hours running camping and simply enjoying the outdoors in the mountains and wilderness near his home. Sometimes he would run the several miles home from Epworth Elementary School. It wasn’t that he was in any urgent hurry to get home, he just loved to run.
Bill entered West Fannin with the new school’s first batch of students in the fall of 1955. He was not very big so he did not participate in any of the sports offered at the school during its first year of 1955-56 nor in the second year of 1956-57. During the spring of his junior year, however, the powers that be at West Fannin decided that the school needed a track and field team. Bill Franklin then had a stage to showcase his running skills. During his junior year, he ran several events but did not concentrate on any specific discipline. He did find himself as a member of the 4-man mile relay team that year. Along with Carlton Guthrie, Leon Guthrie and Rene Godfrey (all members of the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame) Bill became one of the first 4 athletes to compete at the state level thanks to their second place finish at the Region 3AA track and field meet.
When he began the track season toward the end of his senior season, Bill decided that his running skills were more suited for the distance races rather than sprints. He concentrated on the mile run and was rewarded by winning that event at the Region 3AA track and field meet and proceeding to finish 2nd in the state Class AA meet. His accomplishment was the first time any athlete or team from West Fannin ever earned a medal in athletics at the state level.
Following his graduation from West Fannin, Bill had the idea that he would like to pursue an outdoors-related career, perhaps as a warden or ranger. To that end, he decided to travel to Tifton, Georgia at the south end of the state to begin his pursuit of a degree in Forestry. The college that he chose was Abraham Baldwin Agricultural Junior College, commonly referred to as ABAC. It did not hurt that ABAC had up and coming programs in cross country and track and field. Scholarship aid to track and field athletes was virtually non-existent in the world of 1960-61 so Bill was attending college on his own dime at this point.
Bill had an outstanding career in athletics at ABAC. He was elected captain of both the cross country and track and field teams both years that he was there. He led the cross country team to the first state title in school history in 1961-62, by finishing 2nd overall in the event. His track and field teams won two state titles with Bill as their captain in 1960-61 and 1961-62. He was the winner of the 880-yard run in the 1960-61 state meet and followed up with a victory in the 2 mile run in 1961-62 meet. Distance runners at ABAC were only allowed to participate in one event per meet, so Bill’s versatility in the longer running events made him a valuable team member.
Bill Franklin was also an honor student at ABAC and active in a number of community-related activities. His work was recognized by the Tifton Rotary Club in 1962 when the club awarded Bill its annual sportsmanship award to him.
After receiving an associate’s degree from ABAC, Bill was briefly unsure what he should do next in his academic career. He did, however, know two things. He would continue to run no matter where his next stop might be. Second, he had decided to pursue a degree in education instead of forestry. He had come to feel that he would like to work with youngsters as either a coach or an educator.
Fate intervened shortly after Bill participated in a distance race held on the University of Georgia campus in Athens. Bill won the race and the attention of legendary Georgia track and field coach Spec Towns. Coach Towns offered Bill a partial scholarship for his junior year and the promise of a full scholarship for his senior year. Towns kept his promise and Bill Franklin was a UGA track and field distance runner for two seasons. Although slowed by injuries during his career as a Bulldog, Bill did win two varsity letters from the SEC school. He earned a degree in Education from the University in the spring of 1964.
America was at war in the mid-1960s and all able-bodied young men were expected to serve in the military for a time. Billy enlisted in the Army and proceeded to serve 2 ½ tours of duty in Vietnam. He rose to the rank of captain with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Having served his country in the military, Bill returned to Fannin County where he became a Special Education teacher for 20 years. Throughout his teaching career, Bill continued to pursue his passion for running, entering distances races throughout central and north Georgia. He won a roomful of trophies but is particularly proud of his first place finish in the 5K race at the Georgia Marble Festival in Jasper, Georgia in 1985. He was 43 years old at the time and won the event against a field of talented runners much younger than himself.
Bill Franklin loved to run but he was unable to outrun a number of physical ailments that dominated the final years of his life. He was elected to the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2016 and attended a ceremony introducing the class to the public on Monday, August 10. Bill was confined to a wheelchair but made the supreme effort to attend and be honored for his many accomplishments. A scant nine days later, on Wednesday, August 19 Bill passed away.
Bill Franklin epitomized all that is positive in athletics and in life. The Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame is honored to call him a member in good standing.