The Obit For Johnny Freeland

Legendary SHS coach Freeland dies
Published: Sunday, August 14, 2011
By Dan Hoehne

SEBRING -- Sebring lost a legend when longtime coach Johnny Freeland passed away Friday.

Freeland, a three-sport athlete with the Blue Streaks, graduated from Sebring High School in 1938, playing baseball semi-professionally with the Sebring Firemen before starting his minor league career in 1941.

After serving in the army during World War II and taking his minor-league career a bit farther, Freeland returned home to Sebring to play semi-professionally and continue his education.

Earning a degree in social studies and physical education, Freeland began his long career with SHS in 1952, having been influenced to coach by his own high school coach, Jim Melton.

He began as an junior varsity coach for the Streaks in baseball, football and basketball and by the mid 1950s was the varsity head baseball coach and assistant football coach. He had to give up coaching in 1968 after becoming an assistant principal. In 1976, he was awarded a lifetime membership in the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. He retired in 1985 after a 33-year career at SHS.

"I was told our baseball teams had about 250 wins and about 50 losses," Freeland said in a 1979 interview. "During games, if I knew we had things under control after the third or fourth inning, I'd sit back and light up a cigar. People would know we had the game in command."

"I was lucky," Freeland told the News-Sun in 1999. I had good boys. They listened. They worked hard and they loved baseball. And the parents were behind us 100 percent. We had a lot of good years."

And while his successes on the field were plenty, it was the influence he had on his players and the community that told the story of Coach Freeland.

Gary Rapp, who played for Freeland and later coached the Blue Streaks, certainly saw it that way when reached Saturday morning.

"We all have our stories, but I want to touch on the man he was," an emotional Rapp said. "Other than my father, I didn't respect anyone more than Coach. His integrity, his fairness and the way he just treated people right."

Rapp, an area coaching legend in his own right, continued.

"He made you feel comfortable and you believed in him as a coach," he said. "He was a great man off the field as well and I think I speak for anyone that had the pleasure of knowing him that they could only hope to live up to his expectation."

With the news of Freeland still raw, Rapp collected his thoughts during an assuredly moving morning for him.

"What's written on a stone about a man, people forget in a week. What is etched in the minds of people about a man lasts a lifetime. That describes Coach."

Funeral arrangements were not available at press time on Saturday.