By Dedra Cordle
It was an unenviable task put forth to the members of the Principal’s Student Leadership Committee at Franklin Heights High School. Out of the thousands upon thousands of students who have walked the hallways, this small group of 25 had to determine who would be chosen for induction into the Alumni Hall of Fame. It was a challenge they did not take lightly.
“We’ve been meeting and debating about this for months,” said senior Josh Williams.
After long hours of pouring through nomination submissions as to why this person or that person is worthy of becoming a member of the Hall of Fame, they agreed upon the three graduates they felt best represented the spirit of the schools. They are Jack Edwards, Wil Haygood and Roger Rawlins.
As a student in the late 1960s, Jack Edwards was active in just about every sporting and social club, but it was his time in the classroom that sparked his desire to become a teacher. Upon graduating in 1970, he enrolled at the Ohio State University, earning his bachelor of science in education, and then a master’s in education.
He began his teaching career at Park Street Middle School where his claim to fame was designing the team mascot, the Pumas. In 1983, Edwards took a position at his alma mater, where he stayed for decades teaching earth sciences, biology, tech prep and OWE. He was also a coach on the football, track, wrestling and girls’ softball team. Williams, who is on the track team, was one Edwards’ charges.
“He is just a great man and a great mentor,” he said.
Edwards said he was humbled and surprised by the recognition.
By his own admission, Wil Haygood was not supposed to be a student at Franklin Heights because he and his family lived on the east side of the city. But Haygood desperately wanted to be a part of a basketball team and this was the only school that did not trim him from the roster. Each day, Haygood would sneak onto the city bus, using his lunch money as fare, and attend the school he said embraced him with open arms. And then one day, a family friend saw him walking along Demorest Road and told him mother, who had no idea that her son was attending a school so far away.
With his enrollment in jeopardy, Odell Wilson became his legal guardian so Haygood could attend the school that he loved.
It was during an English class where Haygood discovered a love for writing. One of his teachers told him he had a gift and that word propelled him to become a writer. In 2008, Haygood wrote an article for The Washington Post about the life of Eugene Allen, who was a butler at the White House for 34 years. When his piece hit the wires, Hollywood took notice and in 2013, a film called “The Butler” hit the silver screen and received critical and commercial acclaim.
Haygood said if it was not for that odd series of events – his sneaking off to attend another school and a teacher’s comment – he is not sure where he would have ended up but he is glad that life worked out the way it did.
“It’s a wonderful mystery that the kid who found a school while he was out searching for himself is now being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” said the 1972 graduate.
As captain of the baseball team, Roger Rawlins always displayed leadership abilities during his time at Franklin Heights in the early 1980s but he gives most of the credit of that characteristic to teacher and coach David Barrow.
He said Barrow would push all of the students and student athletes to do their best and never give up, even when they really wanted to (especially when he was making them scoop up ground balls ad nauseam).
That drive, Rawlins said, helped shape his career (he is the current chief innovation officer at DSW) and his life.
A few years ago, Rawlins co-founded a scholarship and mentoring program called The Handshake Foundation. To date, the program has awarded over $150,000 to student athletes across the state.
Rawlins said none of this would have been possible if not for his time at Franklin Heights and the care shown to him by his teachers, notably Mr. Barrow.
“He allowed you to believe that you could do all of the things you didn’t think you had the ability to do,” said the 1984 graduate. “He developed the player and the person and if it were not for him, I don’t think I would have been able to do what I do now.”
Though the current Franklin Heights High School will be closing its door in a few months – the new and improved Franklin Heights is just a jump and a skip away – the achievements of the alumni who have roamed the halls will always be cherished and memorialized, said current principal Andy Jados. He said with so many notable alumni to honor, they would continue this newly implemented program and induct more into the Hall of Fame next year.