A leader, a mentor, and a friend

By James Miller
Updated: January 6, 2009

DAYTONA BEACH — Samuel Collins Jr. might be best known as “Rip,” the nickname he earned decades ago in tiny Quincy, Fla., for his prowess as a baseball hitter and fielder.

It’s no wonder it stuck. At 93, the Daytona Beach resident still wields a pretty convincing forehand on the tennis court.

“He’s in great shape, I’ll tell you that,” said 60-year-old Emanuel Session, Collins’ tennis partner, as the two men engaged in a series of friendly rallies at Derbyshire Park & Sports Complex one brisk morning last week. “I wish I could be in that shape if I reach that age.”

Maybe it’s good living.

After all, while Collins’ nickname may be well known in the community, it isn’t the thing for which he is known.

Collins, who was one of the first two black teachers at Mainland High School, is known for his positive influence on generations of young people as a football and baseball coach and educator at Mainland, as well as at the segregated Campbell High School beforehand and later at Spruce Creek High School. In 1985, he was inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

One of his most cherished goals: to help his players secure the athletic scholarships that provided the ticket to higher education.

“I have never coached a young man yet that wanted to go to college and didn’t go,” said Collins, who retired in 1981. “I always tried to get every player that I ever coached in any sport to continue his education and did that by trying to help him get a scholarship.”

Just ask his wife of almost five decades, Ollye Collins, an educator who also played a key role in the integration of Volusia County’s schools.

“Tell him what you would tell them (his players,)” she said, as the couple sat recently in their Daytona Beach home with their daughter, Sonya Frazier. ” ‘I don’t want to see you sitting at the back of the classroom.’ ”

As a teacher, Collins was disciplined, but fair, said Session, who was his social studies student at Campbell in the early 1960s.

“You didn’t want to play around in his class,” Session said.

Samuel Collins’ emphasis on scholarships probably came because one put him through school.

A football scholarship brought him to Daytona Beach to attend what was then Bethune-Cookman College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies and met Ollye.

Collins had grown up with five siblings in a town where he jogged 3 1/2 miles daily to his high school.

“We didn’t have the money,” he said. “I told my dad, ‘Let me go, I have a football scholarship that’s going to take me through the first quarter, and if I have to leave I’ll leave.’ So I went, and I never did leave.”

Afterward, Collins spent almost five years in the U.S. Army — he and Ollye were married while he was on leave in 1942. The couple had three children.

In 1948, the Collinses moved to the Panhandle, where Collins’ coaching career started in earnest at Tivoli High School in DeFuniak Springs.

The schools Tivoli competed against were inevitably bigger — two, three or four times bigger, Collins said. The schools that were smaller didn’t even have football teams.

But graced with athletes like Willie “Boogie” Hall, Tivoli’s football team excelled. In one three-year period, Collins’ teams compiled a 25-3-1 record.

He even notched 131-0 victory over Marianna High School, according to a scrapbook newspaper report from the time.

“And I was trying to hold down the score,” Collins said, with a laugh.

In the mid-1950s, the Collinses moved back to Daytona Beach where Samuel took a job at Campbell High School, Daytona Beach’s black high school in the era of segregation.

He spent about a decade there before becoming — along with Sallie Shelton-Culver — one of two black teachers at Mainland before the school’s legally mandated integration in 1969. A handful of black students voluntarily attended Mainland when Collins arrived, he said.

Collins’ focus didn’t change, even as the times did.

“I’m going to be honest with you, when it came to racial lines, in a sense I never did see it because I accepted people as human beings whether they were black or white, so it really didn’t matter that much to me,” he said.

“I always thought I knew what I was doing,” Collins said, “and if an athlete wanted to play football or baseball, if he really wanted to play, I could teach him.”

Collins did know what he was doing, said Walter Fordham Jr., a professor of education and associate dean at Bethune-Cookman University. He was one of Collins’ student-athletes at Campbell.

Collins called coaches at four schools in an effort to help Fordham secure a football scholarship, Fordham said.

He ended up at Benedict College in South Carolina, where he earned his bachelor’s degree before going on to earn a master’s from Indiana University and a doctorate from Florida State University.

Fordham attributes some of his success to Collins, whom he described as a mentor.

“It was because Rip instilled the confidence and the personal commitment to do well — and come back and return the service and make a contribution in the city,” he said.

Collins has other admirers, too — very close to home.

“If he said it, it was worth listening to,” said Frazier, who often was called “Little Rip” growing up.

Big “Rip” does things from the heart, not for show, she said.

“He does it without fanfare,” Frazier said. “That’s my daddy.”