How do you say good-bye to your hero? You don’t. You just tell them to get some rest while they are on their extended vacation. What is there left to say when your hero transitions to eternity and leaves the rest of us to cope with their sudden departure? You just say they now have peace.
This week I lost my hero in my younger brother, Ike Freeman. It hurts. I feel like my heart has been ripped out. I just didn’t lose a brother. I lost a dear friend, someone whom I have long admired and had the utmost respect for. He was the quiet strength that I could always depend on.
Ike Freeman was not my hero as in idolatry worship, but he was my hero because he stood and lived his life for the principles many people try to buy or wish they could have. He walked in dignity. Integrity was his foothold. His character was never called into question.
He honored God. He loved his family. And he earned his spot as an all-time great while starring on the football field at Long Beach Poly High School. For Ike, life was always built around faith, family and football. He lived his life in that order.
Ike was simple. He had no room for drama. He lived his life wanting to do God’s will, whether it was assisting family members or working with mentally-challenged and at-risk youths.
So right now it is hard to understand God taking away one of his foot soldiers at the time that He did. Ike was the rock of the Freeman family. Growing up with him, Ike was always the level-headed thinker of 11 brothers and sisters. He was also the most determined person I have ever met.
He wanted to excel at anything he did. He would often pull my dad’s old Cadillac up and down the street a couple hundred yards just so he could get an extra edge when he played football. He sang in the church choir and read his Bible to keep himself grounded. He was a man of few words. His actions spoke for him.
The catchphrase of “walking softly but carry a big stick” would aptly apply to Ike. He didn’t do a lot of talking. He just got things done. His exploits on the football field, especially at Long Beach Poly High School, was an illustration of that. Ike became known locally for what he did on the football field, but what he did away from the game of football showcased what a real man and leader looks like.
His serene presence could fill up a room. His gentle spirit was a gift from God. But that nice, sweet spirit was quietly tucked away in a closet whenever Ike took to the football field, especially at the high school and collegiate level (UNLV).
As many know (some may not know this), the Long Beach Poly High football program is a national program, one of the best in the nation every year. It is also a school that has churned out more NFL players than any high school program in the country. Ike Freeman never made it to the NFL level. Yet, he is regarded as one of the best Jackrabbits to ever come out of the storied football program.
He is often referred to as a “legend.” Revered football and track and field coach Don Norford (now retired), who coached at Poly for 38 years, puts Ike in his Top 3 best football players he’s ever coached at the school. That’s just not heady stuff. That’s saying a mouthful. But that acknowledgment still hasn’t been enough for Ike to earn a spot in the Long Beach Poly High School Football Hall of Fame, which he carried a lot of hurt over before he passed away.
Ike and I would have endless discussions over the last few years about the continuing snub, which he felt he didn’t deserve. Three of teammates (all deserving) from the 1982 Poly team that made it to the CIF Finals, are in the Long Beach Poly High Football Hall of Fame.
As the CIF-Southern Section Defensive Player of the Year, and All-State and All-American selection, Ike felt he was just as deserving as his other teammates. To say the slight burned a hole in his heart, would be an understatement. He was crushed by the lack of acknowledgement as an all-time Jackrabbit football player.
Sometimes he would vent about it. He wound up carrying that hurt with him when he passed away, Sunday, August 2. Although he never received his due, Ike remained hopeful he would one day see that honor come to fruition. But like everything else, like living the past few years with congestive heart failure and kidney disease, Ike had no choice but to leave it in God’s hands.
Hopefully, his four children will one day accept on his behalf that overdue recognition he was looking for. In the meantime, I will continue to keep my hero in my heart the way God gave him to us.