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Jul 18, 2023

What’s in a name? A half-century of looking after Newnan High School athletes.

The athletic training program that started in 1974 with then-22-year-old Harry Mullins and continued for decades with James “Radar” Brantley at the helm is now housed in the brand-new Mullins-Brantley Athletic Training Facility.

Mullins and Brantley reminisced at an open house last week with friends, family and colleagues. The pristine facility, which is kitted out with everything from massage and exam tables to state-of-the-art treadmills and fully stocked medical supply cabinets, is a far cry from where the program began.

Harry Mullins

Mullins was finishing school at Southern Mississippi when a chance conversation with a football coach named Mike Parker changed his life.

The younger brother of Leroy Mullins, who would eventually go on to serve as director of sports medicine at Ole Miss, did not want to follow his brother into college sports and instead wanted to work at the high school level. Parker asked Mullins about his post-grad plans, and Mullins told him he had narrowed down his prospects to schools in Illinois and Florida.

“He said, ‘I’ve got a coach in Georgia who wants to start an athletic training program. Do me a favor and talk to him first.’” Mullins said.

So he got on the phone with the coach.

“I said ‘Hello?’ and he said, ‘This is Max Bass, like the fish,’” Mullins said, chuckling as he recalled his first interaction with the legendary Newnan High School coach. “He said he wanted to hire a trainer for a high school in Newnan. I said, ‘OK, Coach. What facilities do you have?’ He said, ‘None.’”

He wasn’t kidding, and Mullins had just one question: Why did he want to do this?

“He said, ‘We need this,’” Mullins said. “‘We need to take care of the kids. We can’t take care of the kids right now.’”

Intrigued, Mullins climbed into Bass’ old, beat-up car and made a memorable road trip to Georgia. When they rode by Newnan High School, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d been there before. As it turned out, he’d passed the school once before, as a child, on the way to visit family in Virginia.

“I remembered that school sitting there from when I was a little kid because it was that impressive,” he said.

After three days in Newnan, Mullins – a 22-year-old who “didn’t owe a dime and didn’t have a dime” – headed back to Hattiesburg on a Greyhound bus with a brand-new life plan.

He told Leroy, who was at that time working at the University of Tennessee, that he’d chosen a school.

“He said, ‘Where are you going? Illinois or Florida?’ and I said, ‘Neither one. I’m going to Newnan, Georgia,’” Mullins said.

Leroy asked about the facilities and Mullins admitted they were nonexistent, which prompted his brother to incredulously ask why he would want to go there.

“I said, ‘Leroy, first of all, if I can go there and help make that program successful from nothing, I can be successful in anything,’” Mullins said. “‘And the second thing, probably more important, is I think I want to live there with the people of Newnan because they want to get along and help each other. And it didn’t take me but three days to spend the time in that town to realize it.’”

James “Radar” Brantley

Brantley came to Newnan High School in 1981 from Troy State University, where he had entered the football program as a walk-on and graduated from it as an athletic trainer.

“I wound up staying in the training room more than on the practice field, so it just seemed like a natural progression,” he said.

Mullins had spent five football seasons getting the program up and running, and after short stints by a couple of other trainers, Bass was once again in search of someone to take care of his athletes. He reached out to Troy’s athletic director, Robert Earl Stewart, who sent the message down through the ranks to the student trainers.

“I was the only one graduating so I got the job,” Brantley said.

But first, he had to prove himself to Bass, whose Cougars had just started spring practice.

“Part of my interview was that I wound up taping the entire football team to get them on the field,” Brantley said. “They got a day’s work out of me for nothing. And then (Bass) offered me the job and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll take it.’”

He started in June, and Bass fired him for the first time that August, the week Newnan was gearing up to play Griffin – at that time one of the school’s biggest rivals.

“I’m from Dublin, Georgia. Fighting Irish. Gold and green,” said Brantley, for whom no Newnan High field apparel had been provided. So he hit the field in a pair of green pants and a gold T-shirt – Griffin’s team colors.

Bass was livid and fired him on the spot, but he soon relented and let Brantley off with a warning.

“He said, ‘You do that again, and you won’t have no job,’” Brantley said. “The next day, I had Newnan T-shirts and shorts.”

Despite being “fired” by Bass numerous other times, he would stay on at Newnan full-time for the next 35 years, during which he was named Jerry Rhea Georgia Athletic Trainer of the Year (2006) and inducted into both the Georgia Athletic Trainers Hall of Fame and the Coweta Sports Hall of Fame. His hard work early on earned him the nickname that has all but erased his given names from memory.

It started with the athletic department’s janitor, Chuck, not long after Brantley started working at Newnan High.

“He was an older gentleman, a little gruff,” Brantley said. “All the coaches were coming around saying they needed this, and this, and this, and I was running around getting the things they needed. Chuck started calling me ‘Radar’ because of Radar from the ‘MASH,’ because on the show they would tell Radar what they needed and he would wind up finding a way to get it for them.

“Chuck called me Radar one day in front of Max, and it stuck,” he added.

In fact, so many students have grown up calling him Radar or Coach Radar or Mr. Radar that they have no idea that’s not his real name. Once, during a trivia competition at an Ole Miss summer sports medicine camp, Newnan High’s team was so far ahead that they had to sit out a round. The camp was headed by none other than Leroy Mullins, who promised five points to whichever team could tell him Radar’s real name. Everyone was stumped – including the Newnan High students.

“A kid from our team raised his hand and said, ‘Mr. Leroy, we don’t know his real name either!’” Brantley said. “Leroy thought that was hilarious.”

All about Coach Bass

Mullins never gave Bass a chance to fire him – he quit.

In his first year, during the first week of school, Mullins was doing treatment with football players at 7 a.m., then driving to his “day job” teaching PE at Ruth Hill Elementary School.

He’d leave a list of player injuries and limitations, which Mullins said irritated Bass, and the coach called Ruth Hill to give the trainer an earful about a player Mullins put on the no-practice, no-contact list.

“I told him the kid was not going to practice or play, and he said he was,” Mullins said. “I said the kid was out of the game, and that’s the end of the discussion. He said, ‘Well, you know what that means then, don’t you?’ and I said, ‘Yeah – I quit.’”

A short time later, Mullins was outside with his class when one of his students said, “Mr. Mullins, here comes Coach Bass.”

Bass had driven his truck up the parking lot and across the tennis court and stopped when Mullins approached him. He walked up beside Mullins and said, “It will never happen again.”

Mullins told him he’d used up his one chance, and that it better not.

“He said, ‘That’s good. Let’s go back to work,’” Mullins said. “And that was the end of the discussion. It never did happen again. We would stay after practice and we would argue, fuss and fight. And then we would leave and go to his cabin and have a beer and just be good friends. He was brilliant.”

Brantley said his most memorable run-in with Bass over player health centered on Bass’ son, Vince, and another of Newnan’s must-win games against Griffin.

The day before the game was the Cougars’ “Santa Claus” practice, where cheerleaders pass out treats and hype up the players for the next day’s game. As the team was running plays, a defensive back cracked Vince hard in the ribs.

“I go out and look at him, and he’s having a hard time breathing, so I’m betting he’s cracked some ribs,” Brantley said. “So I go over to Max and say, ‘Max, I think he may have cracked some ribs, and I think we better get an X-ray to be safe.”

Bass didn’t like his assessment, to put it mildly, and there was some back and forth.

“He said, ‘You know, I run my house. He’s tough. He’ll be all right,’” Brantley said. “I told him again that I thought his ribs were cracked, and he said, ‘Did you not hear me?’ And I told him OK, but when Miss Nancy (Bass’ wife) chews your butt out, I don’t want to hear about it. He told me everything was fine.”

After practice, Bass walked over to Brantley, put his arm around the trainer’s shoulder and said, “You know what? Go on ahead and take him to get that X-ray.”

Creation and evolution

Mullins is widely acknowledged as the first high school athletic trainer in Georgia. When he arrived at Newnan, his entire inventory consisted of a galvanized steel tackle box containing a can of Cramer Tuf-Skin, a can of Nitrotan and two rolls of tape.

He did what work he could with what he had at the time, putting a wall up in the dressing room to create a training room, repurposing old cafeteria tables into treatment tables and turning an old wooden desk backwards to use as a taping table.

Growing up in Natchez, Mississippi, where the summer heat index frequently reaches triple digits, Mullins had seen the devastating effect of heat on student-athletes. Gatorade and other sports drinks were not widely distributed back then, so he kept players hydrated with powdered Kool-Aid mixed with table salt and sugar.

It was the end of the Vietnam War, so he and Bass headed to an army surplus store in Atlanta for medical cabinets and supplies, but it was the community that came through with what they couldn’t buy – literally and figuratively.

James Newby at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company tracked down and donated a particular style of Coke machine to use as a cold bath for hands and ankles, Whooper Lee donated medical supplies from Lee-King Pharmacy, and the staff at Lazenby Jewelry collected and saved the same bubble wrap that Mullins’ brother was paying $100 a roll for at the large colleges where he worked.

Mullins was stumped for a whirlpool until Bass suggested he see Sam Brown at Brown Steel, who had one manufactured out of stainless steel and then delivered and installed it.

“I went through all kinds of people giving stuff and donating, and that allowed me to meet a lot of people in this county and realize how good the folks here really are,” Mullins said.

He left athletic training for the corporate world, where he helped facilitate partnerships between companies and schools. Mullins later served on the Coweta County Board of Education, where he continued to advocate for the health and safety of student-athletes by helping the school system establish and support athletic training programs at all three county high schools.

Though retired, Brantley is still very much involved with Newnan athletics and is still closely connected to East Coweta and Northgate’s athletic training programs, through longtime EC trainer Lloyd Knott and the late Dale Krach, who began the program at Northgate. All three high schools now employ full-time head athletic trainers and support staff and offer classes for student trainers as well as hands-on experience.

Student trainers now do everything from planning, packing and setting up for games, to handling inventory and stock and performing treatments and assessments. Over his career, Brantley – who, like Mullins, taught PE at Ruth Hill Elementary – began the practice of recruiting student trainer families as early as fifth or sixth grade, ensuring a steady supply of interested and dependable workers.

The work of both men is now memorialized in a pristine, state-of-the-art facility at Newnan High School that bears their names.

Naming and claiming

The tornado that clobbered Newnan High in 2021 spared a small whiteboard on which the first mention of calling the new training room the Mullins-Brantley Athletic Facility is still written, and many of the people who were influenced or treated by Mullins and Brantley were on hand to honor the pair during the recent open house.

Newnan High School Principal Gamal Kemp – who played football for NHS during his student days – petitioned the Coweta County Board of Education on supporters’ behalf to name the facility and got unanimous approval. And unanimous admiration seemed to be the atmosphere as the facility was unveiled.

“We just want to thank you guys for everything you’ve done for former and current athletes, and for us,” Kemp told Mullins and Brantley at the open house. “You truly mean a lot, and today we want to honor your legacy.”

Harry MullinsJames “Radar” BrantleyAll about Coach BassCreation and evolutionNaming and claiming