COLUMBIA -- For three weeks, Columbia Central senior Omari Franklin laid in a hospital bed just waiting for the day he’d be back in the Lions’ Den.

His return Tuesday night helped motivate his teammates to a 59-55 win against Overton.

Franklin was injured in a freak accident during a Dec. 16 practice when he and teammate Bubba Perkins collided, resulting in a fractured trachea that required immediate medical attention. Central coach Nick Campbell and athletic trainer Chris Fett responded quickly, and Franklin was later transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he spent 21 days.

Campbell knows he can’t replace the on-court production from Franklin with just one player, but he relies more on his other seniors to pick up the slack. The intangibles Franklin provided, however, are likely what is missed the most.

“We can’t replace what he brings to the team, we just kind of have to do what we can to replace his production, but he’s a leader,” he said. “Not only on offense and defense, but he’s the guy who helps keep everyone calm. He never got too high, never got too low.

“He was there to encourage our guys and push them when they needed it.”

Prior to the game, a letter penned by Franklin was read over the public address system, as he was greeted with a resounding applause throughout the gymnasium.

“First off, I want to thank God for allowing me to live and allowing me to be here tonight,” the letter read. “I want to thank the entire community of Columbia for the immense amount of support for me and my family and the positive spirits from everyone.”

Overton coach John Hopson, who helped save one of his player’s lives in April of 2021 following a stabbing incident, knows what kind of motivation a moment like that can have for a team.

“I figured they would come out with some good energy because he’s an inspirational story. I’m going to use it with our guys tomorrow,” Hopson said. “Our kids showed our respect by going out and competing and being the best version of themselves that they could.”

Having Franklin on the bench for the first half may have helped propel the Lions to an early 16-8 lead, capped by a pair of Q Martin buckets in the final 20 seconds to extend the lead.

Martin then scored the Lions’ next four points as he pushed the lead to 20-12 in the second quarter. Overton, however, battled consistently throughout the game, and cut the lead to 30-25 at the half.

The Bobcats continued to fight after halftime, and cut the lead to 44-42 with just over a minute to play in the third quarter, but a foul sent Martin to the free throw line and a subsequent technical was called on the Bobcats’ Donn Bender. Martin hit all four free throws, and Perkins knocked down a pair as well to give Columbia Central a 50-42 advantage going into the fourth.

“We asked our guys to give it their best effort, and I feel like they did that,” Hopson said. “We have to control what we can control. If the refs are bad, they’re bad, and if they’re good, they’re good. What we can control is our attitude and our effort.”

That effort was on display in the fourth quarter, as Hopson’s Bobcats cut the lead to 55-51 at one point, but Central was able to hold off the rally and get the win in front of the home crowd and Franklin.

“Just seeing him here on the bench with us gives us a little extra motivation (Tuesday) and the rest of the season,” Campbell said of Franklin. “He’s very important to our team.”

Kayden McCoy, one of the bench pieces who has been called upon to help fill the gap left by Franklin, said his presence in the gym definitely makes a difference.

“We missed him. We were calling him and checking up on him every day, even though he couldn’t talk,” he said. “Having him here at home helps because even though he’s quiet, we know he’s cheering us on.”

Franklin was happy to be able to be in the gym for his team.

"I've been thinking about this since I was in the hospital. Being in there 21 days really changed my perspective on life," he said. "So just being able to come out and see everyone makes me happy.

"I didn't know this many people cared."

Columbia Central boys 59, Overton 55

Overton (55) – Ryleigh Meanus 5, Chris Price 10, Donn Bender 10, Noah Gennari 18, Marquez Price 8, Tyson Edwards 4

Columbia Central (59) – Malachi Horton 10, Roni Bailey 11, A.J. Pillow 6, Kayden McCoy 2, Bubba Perkins 11, Q Martin 19

3-pointers – Overton 3 (Meanus, C. Price, M. Price), Columbia Central 6 (Horton 2, Pillow 2, Bailey, Martin)

Columbia Central girls 59, Overton 8

O 0 2 0 6 – 8

Overton (8) – Lily Tickle 2, Janel Bowers 4, Aryana Norman 2

Columbia Central (59) – Saviya Morgan 4, Ryleigh Hamm 4, Anaya Mulholland 4, Tionna Davis 1, Janiyha Riley 13, Kayla Crawford 5, Kiyanah Edwards 8, Emma Hughes 2, Josie Parks 18

3-pointers – Overton 0, Columbia Central 5 (Hamm, Riley, Edwards 2, Parks)

Chris Yow has served as the managing editor for the Trussville (Ala.) Tribune and, most recently, the Spring Hill Advertiser News. He has worked as a sports editor and has covered high school sports in different capacities for 18 years.

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