Originally published October 5, 2014 at 12:00a.m., updated October 5, 2014 at 01:16a.m.
Just seven days after Clint Bowen was named interim football coach at Kansas University, his high school mentor — Lawrence High’s Bill Freeman — is set to be immortalized in the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Today’s ceremony, in which KU greats Charlie Hoag (football, basketball, baseball, track) and Walt Wesley (basketball) also are to be enshrined, is set for 4 p.m. at the Wichita Boathouse.
“Bill Freeman ... You’ve got to love him. Obviously, we know he’s going through some tough times, but what a great honor, and I’m so happy that they acknowledged what he accomplished in the state of Kansas,” said Bowen, a member of the Lions’ 1989 and ’87 state title football teams. Under Freeman, the Lions also won state in 1979, ’84, and ’86.
“His daughter Jennifer has been in contact with the Lawrence High nation and getting everyone to support that deal. What a great man,” Bowen added.
Bowen’s coaching duties at KU will prevent him from attending today’s ceremony.
But several of Freeman’s Lions are slated to be on hand in recognition of the 83-year-old former Emporia State football standout, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and won’t be able to attend.
Freeman’s daughter, Jennifer Freeman Nauertc, who led a yearlong campaign to get her dad placed on the Hall of Fame ballot, has called upon her three children — Tyler Meats (19), Bryson Meats (17) and Kaitlyn Meats (15) — to speak on behalf of their grandfather.
“Absolutely I have great respect for the man,” former LHS and KU lineman Chip Budde said of Freeman, who went 242-81-3 overall and won five football titles at LHS, two at Osawatomie and one at LeRoy. He also won two state track crowns at Lawrence High, where he worked 16 years, retiring in the spring of 1990.
“One of the most important things coach Freeman did with his players was instill the tradition of Lawrence High School,” added Budde, who will attend today’s ceremony.
“Everybody that he sent out of that locker room on Friday nights knew what it meant to wear the black helmet. He did a fantastic job of that.”
Budde will never forget the humble attitude shown by his coach in November of 1984 when the Lions completed an 11-1 season with a 29-3 dismantling of Manhattan in the state title game in KU’s Memorial Stadium.
“It was more about the guys winning than him. He really stepped back and let us enjoy the moment,” Budde recalled. “Before the game, I remember very distinctly he said, ‘Whatever happens out there, when we go out on the field, you are going to remember it for the rest of your lives.’ It’s the pregame talk I remember much more than the postgame.”
One of Freeman’s former assistants, former LHS athletic director Ron Commons, said he enjoyed visiting with Freeman when he came to town for LHS games following his retirement from LHS. Freeman stayed busy after leaving LHS as owner of a bank/mayor of LeRoy.
“Jenny would bring him to Lawrence and (would) have kids and former players come by and visit with Bill. He’d enjoy that. When he came to Haskell Stadium on Friday nights more than watching the game it was hoping former players would come by and visit,” Commons said. “I think this is a very deserving honor probably long overdue.”
Freeman’s daughter made this day possible. She started a popular Facebook page, “Help Get Coach Bill Freeman Inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame,” and encouraged former players, coaches, friends and media members to support her dad for the Hall.
Her efforts are the reason his name appeared on the ballot.
“I was told they received 10 letters about my dad,” Jennifer said. “There were five newspapers that ran articles. I’m overwhelmed by all the support.”
Here’s a look at the two inductees representing KU.
Charlie Hoag: One of the best athletes on the 1952 KU basketball team, Hoag was a four-sport star who holds the unique distinction of having won an Olympic gold medal in one sport and being drafted professionally in another.
Hoag competed in football, basketball, baseball, and track at KU. A two-time All-Big Seven football player for the Jayhawks, Hoag also played a pivotal role on the 1952 KU basketball national championship team, scoring nine points in the title game. Although just a junior, Hoag was named, along with six of his Jayhawk teammates, to the 1952 U.S. Olympic basketball team which won the gold in Helsinki, Finland.
Hoag returned to Lawrence for his senior year in 1953 but had his season cut short due to an injury sustained during the KU-K-State football game that season. Despite the injury, Hoag was drafted to play halfback by the Cleveland Browns in 1953. Hoag was inducted to the University of Kansas Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.
Walt Wesley: The Fort Myers, Florida native was a two-time All-America selection. Playing for 2009 Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Ted Owens, Wesley led the Jayhawks in scoring in both his junior and senior seasons and averaged over 20 points per game both years. Wesley was named an All-Big Eight selection in 1965 and 1966 and was also selected as a Helms Foundation first-team All-American both seasons. Wesley is No. 28 scorer in school history. He was selected in the first round of the 1966 NBA Draft by the Cincinnati Royals and played 10 NBA seasons, registering over 5,000 points and over 3,000 rebounds. Wesley’s jersey was retired in 2004.