By PAUL LETLOW
Written for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association
What does it take to kick off a high school football dynasty?
For Louisiana coaching legend Mackie Freeze, the answer was a $300 budget, an assortment of hand-me-down equipment — and a unique brand of tough love that molded the willing into warriors.
“I taught them about intestinal fortitude and the will to win,” the former Richwood High School coach said. “That old never-say-die attitude is what you have to teach kids. You teach them that if anybody can do it, you can too, if you try hard enough. Don’t give up. Ever.”
Now decades after coaching his last game in 1967, Freeze has been selected for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Freeze becomes the oldest living person inducted at age 94 next Saturday night in Natchitoches.
“Better late than never,” Freeze said.
Another Grambling hero, eight-time Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, is in the Class of 2020, along with Louisiana Tech icons Phil Robertson and Angela Turner Johnson. For participation opportunities in the LSHOF Induction Celebration June 24-26 and information about the Natchitoches-based festivities, visit LaSportsHall.com or call 318-238-4255.
The late Mary Frances Goins hired Freeze, a former Grambling baseball star, to start an athletics program in 1954. Principal Goins challenged Freeze to mold something that would enhance the student experience at the rural north Louisiana school. He was tasked to perform with a tiny budget, but a grassroots effort brought donated shoulder pads, shoes, pants and jerseys from area high schools and the local college program.
Over the next 13 years, Freeze produced a 116-23 record (.834) and fielded teams that won 56 straight games on the field while claiming four consecutive state titles from 1961-64. More than 65 of Freeze’s former players earned college scholarships and 11 were drafted or signed professional football contracts. Freeze never coached a losing season.
Before he became a coaching legend, Freeze enjoyed a noteworthy baseball career at Grambling. As a pitcher, he helped Grambling win its first-ever national NAIA title under the late coach R.W.E. “Prez” Jones. Freeze never lost a game on the mound at Grambling and even subbed as a guard on the football team under the great Eddie Robinson. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Freeze out of college. He participated in training camp with Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella.
“My father was a baseball player,” said Freeze, who graduated from Grambling in 1950 with a degree in elementary education. “The material he showed me sitting on the porch one day put me in camp with Jackie Robinson. He sat me down and taught me to throw a curveball, a screwball and a sinker with a tennis ball. When I went to Grambling, I was demonstrating (pitching) and Coach Prez asked me what I played. I said I was a second baseman and he hit one or two out there to me. He said he’d heard I could make a ball curve. I threw the ball and he said, “Mackie, you’re a pitcher.’ Prez was something.”
He was primarily a basketball player in high school and had never seen a football game until he reached Grambling. The Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame coach Robinson liked his potential and invited him to join the team.
“When I got to Grambling, Coach Rob saw me out catching passes one day and I asked me who I was,” Freeze said. “He said he’d heard about me. He’d heard I was a basketball player but he told me I was a football player.”
Freeze spent a couple of years in the military after pro baseball didn’t pan out. Given his chance to coach, greatly influenced by Coach Rob and Prez Jones, Freeze molded winners and pioneers.
PHOTO: Portrait of Mackie Freeze by Chris Brown, Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame artist