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Paul Freeman

Paul stood tall

Staff Writer

"I'm from New England originally," the 62-year-old Freeman said, with a hint of that New England accent still in his voice. "Our family moved to Richmond when I was in the fifth grade.

"When I first got there, baseball was more my game, but I quickly found out if you didn't play basketball, you didn't fit in. We played basketball before school, at recess and after school. I found out I really liked basketball."

The love of the game was fostered by Richmond principal E.J. Kinleyside, himself a prominent figure in Ashtabula County basketball for four decades.

"It wasn't so much about the mechanics of the game as the love of it that he taught us," Freeman said.

It all molded an extremely cohesive group by the time they got to high school and made for great achievements. That group is beginning to come together again, with Freeman joining Bob Hitchcock this year as a member of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. He will be inducted Sunday at the annual ACBF awards banquet at 6 p.m. at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.

Freeman expressed shock at his selection, although he really shouldn't have been surprised.

"It would be an understatement to say that I was caught off guard," he said. "I had never given thought to the possibility of going into the Hall of Fame. Obviously, this is a very much unexpected honor. I'm honored to be in pretty exclusive company."

His contributions to Ashtabula County basketball go beyond playing for those fine PV teams. When he returned to the county from his college studies, he got into teaching and coaching at Conneaut High School, learning from ACBF Hall of Famer Andy Garcia at the end of his coaching career, then assisting Harry Fails, another ACBF Hall of Famer, with his fine Conneaut teams. When Fails left Conneaut, Freeman succeeded him as the Spartans' coach for three seasons.

Even though he moved rather quickly into administration, Freeman also kept his hand in the coaching realm at the junior high level. That gave him the opportunity to work with his youngest child, Renee, molding her into one of the finest girls basketball players PV has ever produced and sending her on to an equally productive career at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa., where she is now an assistant coach.

Two county schools also owe a date of gratitude to Freeman and his wife, Evelyn, for providing them with four fine athletes and for their support to those programs. They will celebrate their 43rd anniversary Wednesday.

Oldest child Brent was a fine player at Conneaut for Tom Ritari before his graduation in 1983. Brent and his wife, Tina, who are residents of Andover, may be sending more fine athletes through the PV system with sons Adam, 10, and Jared, 7.

Second son Sean, a 1990 PV graduate, was one of the Lakers' greatest all-around athletes. He was an outstanding quarterback for Ken Parise and a member of Bob Hitchcock's 22-1 team in 1988-89 that reached the district finals and a 1,000-point career scorer. He really found his niche in baseball, playing high levels of minor league baseball before illness and injury sidetracked him. He lives in Dorset with his wife, Laura.

Third son Kerry was also a fine all-around athlete for PV before his graduation in 1994 and still lives in Andover. Youngest child Renee, married to Jason Drake, had the distinction of scoring 1,000 points at PV before her graduation in 1999 and repeated that in college, while also being a standout softball player at both schools.

Sports was always a big thing for Paul Freeman, one of three sons and six children of the late Ozzie and Charlotte Freeman. He also maintained his passion for baseball, ran cross country and was good enough in track to qualify for the state meet in the discus and hold the PV record in that event for more than a decade.

His five siblings took various paths. Older brother Dexter was a baseball player. Dawn, the youngest child, played basketball for ACBF Hall of Famer Beth Helfer at PV, then took her talents as an outstanding distance runner to Kent State University. Older sisters Charlotte and Joyce and younger brother Keith were not athletes.

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