Bill Freeman was a legendary high school football coach. One of the most successful football coaches in Kansas history, Freeman had an overall record of 242-81-3 over a 36-year career. Now 83, Freeman suffers from Alzheimer’s and is living in a nursing home in his home town of Burlington, Kansas.
In October, Bill Freeman will be enshrined into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Wichita. Through the efforts of his daughter – Jennifer Freeman Nauretc – Coach Freeman appeared on the ballot for enshrinement this year and was one of ten selected for the honor. Of the 25 nominees, only 10 were guaranteed admittance and Freeman was one of them. Jennifer worked tirelessly on a promotional campaign on her father’s behalf, writing and calling members of the media as well as athletes and coaches. His enshrinement is larger the result of her efforts.
Freeman was a four-year letterman at guard at Emporia State and later coached at Baxter Springs, LeRoy, Osawatomie, Parker Rural and Lawrence. He built a dynasty at Lawrence where his teams played in 10 consecutive Class A State Championships – 1986-1995. The first four of those came with Freeman as head coach. His overall record at Lawrence was 134-38. All told, Freeman’s teams won 8 championships in three different classifications.
Coach Freeman was also selected to the National Football Foundation College Hall of Fame in 1996 by the Jayhawk Chapter in Lawrence. He also was a recipient of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame’s Pride of Kansas Award and has been inducted into the Emporia State Hall of Fame and the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame. Five of his players went on to play in the NFL including former Kansas State and Green Bay Packer Quarterback Lynn Dickey.
Earlier in his life, Freeman beat prostate cancer and had quadruple heart bypass surgery. After retiring from coaching, Freeman worked in the banking business and actually served as the Mayor of LeRoy, 14 miles from his home town of Burlington.
According to his daughter, Freeman – with Alzheimer’s – lives in 1951. That’s when he was a guard for Emporia State and long before he started winning games as one of the most successful coaches in Kansas history. “He knows us, his family, but he thinks it’s the olden days,” Freeman-Nauertc said. “He now has a tough time carrying on a conversation. A lot of times we’ll discuss football with him and he’ll try to tell us about some plays.”
“I think in football it was the interaction he had with the kids which he loved,” added Freeman-Nauertc. “He always loved it when former players would come back because he liked seeing what they had done with their lives. He wanted to have a positive impact.”
His Hall of Fame induction is a very deserving honor, according to former assistant coach and athletic director at Lawrence, Ron Commons. “I think it’s a very deserving honor and probably long overdue,” said Commons. “The one thing about Coach Freeman is that he truly cared for his players.”
Clearly, a well-deserved honor.