High School Sports

Miami-Dade basketball pioneer Marilyn Stephens-Franklyn applauds Spurs’ hiring of female assistant coach

Coral Reef boys’ basketball coach Marilyn Stephens-Franklyn works with Craig Miller during a practice on March 23, 1998.
Coral Reef boys’ basketball coach Marilyn Stephens-Franklyn works with Craig Miller during a practice on March 23, 1998. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

As the first woman to be paid as an NBA assistant coach, Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Spurs — whose team played at the Heat on Tuesday night — is a pioneer.

But Miami has its own trendsetter when it comes to a woman coaching males — Marilyn Stephens-Franklyn, who ran the Coral Reef boys’ basketball program from 1998 to 2003.

Stephens-Franklyn, now 52 and living in West Chester, Pennsylvania, was the first woman to coach public school boys’ basketball in Florida.

Coral Reef had opened in the fall of 1997, and Stephens-Franklyn coached the school’s first five years of varsity competition.

“It was a great experience,” said Stephens-Franklyn, the mother of two daughters. “I didn’t have sons, but [because of Coral Reef] I [suddenly] had 12.”

While Stephens-Franklyn — who no longer coaches — looks back at her Coral Reef days fondly, she admits she did initially meet with resistance and resentment.

There was the time she overheard a rival coach give a rousing halftime speech in the adjoining locker room in which he shouted: “We will not get beat by this woman!”

Another coach dropped Coral Reef from its schedule. One referee refused to shake her hand. A rival player ridiculed the fact that she was a woman coach.

And there was the father of one of her own players who wondered aloud how Stephens-Franklyn could accomplish “male bonding” and how she would handle going into the locker room.

“I told him that when it came to male bonding, that’s what fathers are for,” Stephens-Franklin said. “As for locker room, I had been coached by men, and they would always announce when they would go in there. I did it the same way, and I also had a male assistant coach to help out. It was never an issue.”

Although history will show her to be a pioneer, Stephens-Franklyn views her situation at Coral Reef more simply.

She knew the game from her playing days as a star at Temple University — she’s in the school’s Hall of Fame and still holds the Owls’ records for points, rebounds and blocked shots — and she was an experienced physical education teacher.

“I was the most qualified person for the job,” she said. “I remember leaving the interview on a Friday and thinking that the only way I don’t get this job would be because of my gender.

“That next Monday, the athletic director [Robert Armand] called me into his office and handed me some mail that was addressed to the attention of the Coral Reef boys’ basketball coach. That’s when I knew I got the job.”

Stephens-Franklyn said Armand had a daughter, and he thought about the hire that entire weekend and came to the conclusion that he would hate for his child to be denied a job based on her gender.

“Teaching basketball was natural to me,” Stephens-Franklyn said. “And it didn’t matter if I was teaching the game to males or females.”

Coral Reef didn’t win a single game that first season — not surprising because it was a first-year program — and the Barracudas didn’t enjoy any championships during that era.

But there were other victories.

For starters, her oldest daughter, Marilyn Stephens-DeLa Cruz, 29, is now the assistant athletic director at Miami’s Booker T. Washington — no doubt inspired by her mother’s example of working in athletics.

Her other daughter, Adashia Franklyn, is a 6-1 freshman forward who is on a basketball scholarship at Saint Joseph’s University, a Division I program.

In addition, Stephens-Franklyn said she taught the boys on her Coral Reef team life lessons.

“We had mandatory study hall, and they were not allowed to use profanity around me,” she said. “I never cursed them out — it was about respect. I was teaching them to be young men.”

Nearly two decades after she became a pioneer, Stephens-Franklyn was asked for her reaction to Hammon coaching in the NBA this season.

“I’m excited,” she said. “It’s about time!”

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