Through the Fire

On March 24th, a fire in the Victory Gardens apartment complex led to water and smoke damage that destroyed the home of FAMU bowling coach Novella Franklin.

Franklin was away competing in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament in Norfolk, Va., when she received the phone call.

“When I got the disturbing phone call, I decided to stay (at the conference) and return with the team because at that point there was nothing that I could do,” Franklin said. The Leon County Fire Department’s investigation concluded that the fire was caused by a bad wiring problem starting on the second and third floors.

“There were 12 units, including my apartment, that were destroyed by fire, smoke or water damage,” Franklin said.Sheritta Johnson, a third-year bowler and public management student, said she was disappointed to hear the disturbing news, and her heart goes out to Franklin.

“I felt remorse and sympathy for coach when I heard about the news that night at dinner, and I am available to help in any way I can,” Johnson said.

Franklin, who said she was already shaken up because of an incident that took place earlier that day, said the news only punctuated her bad day.

“I was already going through it,” Franklin said. “One of my athletes had a seizure earlier that morning,” Franklin said.Johnson said Franklin did not dine with the team that evening before the game because she had been feeling sick all day.

Team captain Domonique Boatman, a sophomore from Apopka, said the reality didn’t dawn on the team until it finally arrived home.

“We didn’t find out that her entire home had been destroyed until we returned to Tallahassee,” Boatman said.

“We thought that it was the apartment above her that was on fire.”

Boatman recounts that another coach informed the team at dinner, so the details were sketchy, and most of the team didn’t know the whole story.

Even with the vague information given to players on the team, Boatman was thankful her coach was not physically injured by the fire due to the away game.

“From this experience I have learned that life is very precious,” Franklin said.

“You never know what to expect because I could have been there, but God had it that I wasn’t.”

Franklin said this personal loss has forced her to slow down and think about things carefully and evaluate herself. The team’s performance did not produce any negative effects because they had already been eliminated from the tournament when the news broke.

The team has not met since the incident, and Franklin has been on medical leave for the last three weeks at the advice of her doctor for stress-related reasons.

Although this unfortunate loss has changed Franklin, she is still enthusiastic about coaching and returning to work. “I won’t see the team until our next meeting Monday, but the girls have been calling and showing their support and are ready to move forward into a successful bowling season,” Franklin said.

She explained the Red Cross and her apartment complex have done little to nothing to help her with this tragedy. “It is people like FAMU’s former athletic director Mr. Hansel Tookes and his wife, Lavada Tookes, that have made the best of this situation for me by opening their home to me until my new home is ready,” Franklin said.

The coach, who has only recently received a bed on April 13, said she is thankful for donations and she is continuing to stay strong.

“Through it all I have to thank everyone such as my sorority (Zeta Phi Beta grad chapter), church members and colleagues who have been calling, donating or stopping by to support me.”