Ford: Bessemer HS football

Freeman’s dismissal doesn’t make sense
By Hunter Ford
Ten years ago Bessemer Academy was at a turning point. The school was broke. It couldn’t afford to pay teachers. According to an award-winning story “About Face: A New Game Plan” that ran in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 2005, the school turned to football to help solve the problems.

“Right before Christmas break in 1997, school officials informed the teachers that the school wouldn’t have enough money to pay them until after the new year. School leaders huddled,” reads the story.

Facing dwindling enrollment, Bessemer Academy “Needed to get the school back in the public eye, so they set out to do the one thing guaranteed to bring attention to a high school in the South: build a football powerhouse.”

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The story goes into fascinating detail about how Mark Freeman, a car salesman and Pee-Wee coach was hired and immediately turned the school into a statewide sensation.

The Rebels won 102 games in ten seasons under Freeman, claiming four AISA state championships in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007.

The story recounts how Freeman attracted black students to what it referred to as a “segregation academy.”

Freeman also hired a black assistant coach, which the Times-Picayune painted as a risky move.

But the Times story seemed to me to be a mostly positive portrayal of Bessemer Academy, of Freeman, and of the football program.

It reads a lot like “Remember the Titans.”

Freeman’s football teams not only won on the field; they learned life lessons and inspired the community.

The state legislature even passed a resolution recognizing the team for its achievements.

Earlier this month a strange plot twist occurred in the Bessemer Academy football story. The school is in poor financial shape again, the current board of directors says. This time, instead of turning to Freeman to bolster its image, the school is letting him go.

I called the school’s headmaster last week and didn’t get a return call. I talked to one of the board members and was mostly given the “no comment” response…no details.

I’m surprised that we haven’t received any phone calls this week at The Western Star. I know that some people care about the situation, because “on the street” I’ve heard a lot of speculation.

The school’s official reason for letting Freeman go is that it has to focus on retaining teachers. Freeman was more of an administrator, the school board said, and had to be sacrificed.

But Freeman had worked to get his college degree, something he did not have when he began coaching at Bessemer Academy. He had also been teaching classes called Christian Living, and he was willing to teach other classes if asked.

Furthermore, one former board member said a group of private investors may have been ready to pay Freeman’s salary if asked, or allowed to.

The scenario doesn’t make sense. Bessemer Academy’s football team under Freeman was providing positive publicity. It was virtually the only thing people ever heard about Bessemer Academy and it was all good news.

Freeman was not only producing championship teams, he was producing scholarship quality athletes. Two of his players from last year’s team have committed to Auburn. With Freeman’s departure those players have decided to play at other schools next season.

What will happen now at Bessemer Academy?

The football team may continue to be successful. The school is right to place top priority on academics, but will it lose its ability to recruit new students if the athletic department starts to flounder? Don’t forget, other sports were thriving. The basketball team won a state championship last year too.

How important is Bessemer Academy to the West Jefferson community? Is it going to survive? Losing a good football coach is one thing, but can it even keep its doors open?

New schools are being built all around the county thanks to new tax money. Will Bessemer Academy be an attractive option for as many families as it used to be, or will they be happy to send their kids to the new public schools?

I don’t have any answers. And I’m not hearing any from anybody in a leadership position. The more I think about it, the more questions come up. It’s an interesting situation. I’d love to hear the rest of the story.


Add Yours
  1. 2

    They will be fine tmc. I guess school boosters who were SPUAT fans have pulled their cash due to the two Auburn commits. I am sure if they committed to UAT, the REC would have come up with the cash to pay the coach.

    Smells like fish to me or is the wind blowing out of the west in Bessemer?

  2. 4

    Six, and I’m fairly sure it doesn’t take money to ultimately be the deciding factor in choosing Alabama or Alabama Polytechnic Institute. That’s like having to decide on whether you wanna spend the next four or five years in a mansion or in a trailer.

    I know you wet your panties whenever a recruit picks us over you guys. But if you’re over the age of six, shouldn’t you be accustomed to that? Or have you completely blocked out all of those excruciating memories prior to the year 2002?

  3. 5
    Bama Fan In N Y C

    Hey, don’t play dumb, Mr. Dark Illusions, you know we’d all chose a second rate cow college, full of envious fans who suffer from a severe case of inferiority complex (even after six consecutively close victories over a team that has been hindered from equal competition throughout those years) and who proudly proclaims themselves to be “the ugly little redheaded stepchildren of the state”.

    Also, who wouldn’t want to attend a school located in the backwoods of Nowhere, Opelika, which features a grand total of six bars (in the entire 3 foot town), that never hosts any A-list artists, and last but not least, a town where fierce racism is present and rodeos are an everyday event!

    It’s grrrrrreat to be an API Cowgirl!

  4. 6
    Redneck Tider

    I’m not gonna lie, Bammer in NY, that’s the exact reason I loooove Aufarm! You have to admit, despite being outdated and uncivilized farming community, we still take great pride in the joint!


  5. 7

    You both are on crack. Your vision of Auburn are what I expect from a twit who took a job as a Garbage Man in NYC and a man who does not know the difference between a CRACK HOUSE and a Mansion.

  6. 8
    Mike in Arkansas

    Kodi Burns, 5* prospect from Fort Smith Arkansas. Chooses the Razorbacks and then backs out under mysterious circumstances, And signs with little known mid-major Auburn University. $ound$ $trange doe$nt it?

  7. 9
    Shane is a BLOGGER

    Mike, Kodi knew that a coaching change was coming. He also knows that Patrino will not be there when he becomes a senior.

  8. 10

    6 down now 7,
    In Dark/NYC’s world, (the real world) guys like you have to address them as “Sir” while you are mopping their floors.
    In Dark/NYC’s world the women dont have tobacco in their teeth.
    And in Dark/NYCs world trailers arent considered mansions.
    But dont despair, there is always defending Sally Lou’s honor at the barn dance on Fridays for you to look forward to. And dont forget the free radiator Moonshine tastings down at Tater’s Garage. And what week would be complete with out a drunken brawl at church.

  9. 11
    Mike in Arkansas

    Yeah. He left because Petrino was coming. And Burns didnt want to be in a “Micheal Vick” style offense. Obviously he felt like it wouldn’t suit him. Right?

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