SPANISH FORT, Ala. (WALA) - In just a few short years, Spanish Fort High School has won several state athletic championships and been recognized for academic success. Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Mark Freeman was hired two years ago, and he said those accomplishments and the great people led him to accept the job.
Freeman led the football team to a state title in 2012, despite an sudden and difficult challenge, He recently shared about Spanish Fort, his career and how his faith helps him lead young men and women on a daily basis.
"Football is a great molder. Football will make you think that you're not going to be able to make it, and it shows that you are. And, it makes you think that I can't face that, when really you can face it. Lord knew what He was doing when He invented football," Freeman said.
Freeman said he loves football and the life lessons that can be learned by those who play. In the school's just seven years of existence, the Toros have won nine state championships in four varsity sports. In the early 1990s, Freeman was on a different course, despite his love of sports.
"Athletics was always special to me. Growing up that's all we did, and I had the opportunity to go to college. Right before I was supposed to start practice, I got mononucleosis and got put into the hospital. They put me on restrictive stuff. I could not go practice. In the meantime, I got a job; and I went to work," Freeman said.
The job took him away from football and athletics for several years. Freeman said something inside continuously tugged at him.
"We'd pass buses on Friday night, and I'd tell my wife every time one of those passes me, ‘It's like my spirit wants to jump out and get on that bus because I felt like I'm supposed to be doing that. So we made a decision and we decided I was going to pursue this after our daughter Cory finished high school," said Freeman.
Two years after "the decision," Freeman was hired at Bessemer Academy near Birmingham. He took over a program with Alabama's longest losing streak, 31-straight games. Freeman led Bessemer to the playoffs his first season and then a winning record his second. In his fourth season, Freeman's team was undefeated and won the first of four AISA Alabama private school state championships, in his 10 years at Bessemer Academy.
Freeman had accomplished a lot and wanted new challenges.
"Gulf Shores is a great place. Gulf Shores had called me a couple years earlier, and they contacted me at right time. We were blessed with two years down there and met a lot of great people," stated Freeman.
His move to Gulf Shores resulted in the schools best season ever in 2009, and the Dolphins first playoff win. Freeman's success at the beach was noticed by many in the area including the principal at Spanish Fort when their football coach accepted a job in the college ranks.
"This opportunity came up at Spanish Fort in 2011. They had lost 19 starters, and I think 32 seniors. That's a big hurdle, and the state championship had just been won. It might not be the right time," Freeman says he had to pray about this challenge.
Freeman spent a few days in Spanish Fort to evaluate the opportunity.
"This school is just phenomenal. We've got great teachers, 95 percent of them are at every athletic event. They support it, they know the coaches, everybody that works at the school knows our athletes.
The people in the community up here in Spanish Fort, I believe feel it's important to them to be successful, its important for them to support what we do at the school," says Freeman.
Freeman took the job and his first season in 2011 was successful, producing nine Toros wins and a trip to the third round of the state high school football playoffs.
"If you love a young person you can direct them, we coach them hard, we demand a lot, The thing that jumps out about our kids is their work ethic, we've always driven our kids hard. I tell them once a week I make a point to say, it's not easy to play here, and it's not," shared Freeman.
In September 2012, the Toros star receiver and Alabama recruit Deon Johnson was arrested on rape and sodomy charges. Freeman said he relied on his deep faith, as he and his coaches helped the team learn another life lesson.
"It was a difficult time, it was a sad time, but, it made our team grow together. It goes back to the resiliency of our kids, something comes up that none of us can control, it was a life lesson for our kids. There's going to be other days like this, God used it as a learning tool for life for these kids, for these coaches, for myself," Freeman reflected.
The Toros only lost one game in 2012 and captured another state title, Freeman's first public school football championship.
"It's just like a contagious, a good contagious thing to be in athletics here at Spanish Fort. We're blessed that we've been successful. We have been successful in baseball; to play baseball at Spanish Fort is special. Our basketball coach does a phenomenal job,
the girls soccer team won the state championship, winning produces winning. I tell the kids every Friday night you're not just putting the uniform on for yourself, your putting on for that teacher, for the people in this city. We're blessed to be here, it's our privilege to be here, it's an honor to be here, it's a great place," states Freeman.
Spanish Fort has won state championships in baseball, track and field, soccer and football. In fact, the "amazing" baseball program has won the last three state titles since 2010. Educationally, Spanish Fort High School has been recognized as one of the "top twenty" high schools in Alabama for academics. Freeman said the community's commitment to education and youth sports is a major reason for Spanish Fort's success. And, because of all the school and community spirit in Spanish Fort Freeman's excited about the future and the direction they're headed.
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