A hall of fame induction can be a very personal experience.
One name. One plaque. One set of accomplishments.
But that’s not the way Jeff Freeman is approaching his inclusion in the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame’s 15th class. On April 26, the 1979 Cold Springs graduate will be one of 11 honorees front and center at the Civic Center taking their seats in local history.
And on that stage, Freeman will represent one man, one athletic career and one assortment of awesome memories. But in his heart, he knows he was never in it alone. It took a whole host of trusty teammates and coaches to help put Freeman in the position he’s in today.
“It’s a great honor for me, but the players I played with are the reason I’m getting inducted,” the former three-sport superstar said. “You don’t get awards unless you have great teammates with you.
“I know there are a lot of better athletes that haven’t been brought in yet. But I just want to thank the hall of fame committee for considering me and accepting me in with a great group of men and women that’re in there.”
Freeman spent his time with the Eagles playing basketball, football and baseball, where he was All-County in all three and All-Area in the former pair. Like many who have come through the cozy community of Cold Springs, however, Freeman’s heart belonged on the basketball court.
To this day, he still remembers the first trophy he “had the privilege” of helping a team win. It was for the junior high’s C squad, when schools still fielded A, B and C teams. Last Freeman saw, that piece of hardware was still sitting proudly in Cold Springs’ display case.
“That trophy right there makes you realize where you came from,” he said. “Even being as old as I am now, I can go back and look at that and be thankful.”
From sentimental to just plain crazy, one of Freeman’s fondest recollections revolves around a moment that’s sure to leave anyone with a funny bone in stitches.
During a game at Hanceville, the 1,000-plus-point career scorer glanced up at the clock and could swear he saw it counting down, “5, 4, 3...” Under the impression he was pressed for time, Freeman let off a halfcourt heave and watched it misfire off the front of the rim.
Coach Johnny Tekulve, now the headmaster at St. Bernard and the man responsible for sticking Freeman with the nickname “Mutt,” was so incensed at the long-range attempt he took it out on his watch, which was always worn backward so he’d have to roll his wrist over to check the time.
Why the outrage, you ask? Oh, just because there was actually about three minutes left on the clock, not seconds like Freeman had imagined.
“He hit that watch on the bleacher, and it just went everywhere. And of course I went everywhere right to the bench,” Freeman said through fits of laughter. “I almost hit the shot, but I was out of that game about as fast as you get ever get out of one.”
Freeman’s senior year was “something you dream of.” The Eagles’ football team surpassed the six-win mark for the first time in program history, the basketball squad made it all the way to state and the baseball team earned a playoff berth. To top it off, Freeman, a multi-sport team captain, was selected to compete in the North-South All-Star Basketball game.
After high school graduation, Freeman signed a basketball scholarship with Wallace State. He played basketball two years and was also a member of the Lions’ very first baseball team, which was once visited by former UAB coach and National League great Harry “the Hat” Walker.
While at Wallace State, Freeman realized “you’ve got to work” because other college players who sign are “just as good or better than you are.”
These days, Freeman drives a truck for CMC Steel in Birmingham and enjoys serving as a youth pastor for Bethany Baptist Church in Crane Hill near Smith Lake. He encourages kids to pursue a four-year education and frequently reminds them “life’s fun if you make it fun.”
Freeman and his wife, Becky, have three children — Haley, Josh and Hunter. Haley, a senior, and Josh, a sophomore, were crucial cogs in Cold Springs reaching the championship in both basketball county tourney brackets earlier this year.
“I told them you’ll never know until you get to play in one (county final) what it means,” said the elder Freeman, who helped guide the Eagles to two county titles in his three years on varsity. “Then they got to, and I said I can’t describe what the feeling is when you win one.”
The day after Josh and his teammates corraled Cold Springs’ first boys county basketball crown since 2008 with a 66-63 stunner of top-seeded Holly Pond, the teen shared a special exchange with his dad.
“My son told me that Sunday morning,” Freeman recalled with fatherly pride, “‘Dad, now I know what you were saying.’”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.