By Jared A’Latorre, Sports Editor
A friend. A leader. A man of the Lord. An amazing legacy.
Legendary swimming and diving coach Dr. Samuel Freas passed away Sunday, Mar. 24 at the age of 72.
Freas has made an outstanding legacy on Bison Hill. He was responsible for founding the swim and dive program in 2011.
Since the creation of the team, Freas has led OBU to seven national championships in NAIA competition.
After moving up to NCAA Division II, Freas’ swimmers have won individual national championships in different competitions.
The Bison and Lady Bison finished fifth overall in the national contest.
Before making his way to founding the swim program at OBU, he was known for his remarkable achievements with LSU, Arkansas, Hawaii and Allegheny. Freas was also an author of many influential swimming books.
Freas was involved with his occupation internationally as well.
He coached the South African Olympic swim team as well as serving as CEO and President of the International Swimming Hall of Fame for 15 years.
Robert Davenport, OBU’s athletic director, talked about the fun side of Freas and his demeanor toward people.
“Coach was always fun to be around,” Davenport said. “One of his many nicknames was the Big Kahuna.”
People involved with swim knew his name, including people from across the world.
“There was no question he impacted the culture here at OBU,” Davenport said. “Student-athletes came all over the world just to swim for him.”
While Freas was an advocate for making his players perform better in the pool, he was also just as concerned about their relationship with God.
“I remember that Sam was more concerned about his student-athletes spiritual life than anything else,” Davenport said. “Their relationship with the Lord was the most important thing to him, even more than swimming or graduating. He was a bigger-than-life personality and there was never a dull moment around him.”
Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Susan DeWoody also had a take on Freas and how his spirituality impacted those around him.
“One of the things about Sam is that no matter what he had going on, he was always concerned about other people,” DeWoody said. “He seemed more concerned on how I was doing than what he needed to bring for questions or whatever he needed for me in my role.”
With DeWoody focused on how to organize everything on Monday morning to bring the swimmers and divers together to cope with the pain, she did not begin to react for herself once everybody was brought in together.
“I don’t really think I began to really recognize until [I met] with the swimmers and divers that day,” DeWoody said. “I began to slow down and feel the impact.”
The next step for the swimmers and for Bison Hill is to remember Freas for the person he was.
“We’re going to celebrate his life in a big way,” DeWoody said.
Freas’s players were vocal about their thoughts after his passing.
Junior Felipe Ramirez Zapata from Columbia shared his first experience with Freas on how the toll from transitioning to school in new country was taken right off his back.
Freas was a huge icon for international students who came to OBU.
“I was a person that was worried too much about the details and with him I learned how to just and not think about it and that helped me a lot,” Zapata said.
Zapata talked about how you didn’t have to be skilled or gifted to be with Freas. If you have the spirit, the work will show.
“You just have to do the work and have fun,” Zapata said. “Not just me but the world lost a person full of love. That guy would do anything for his people he was loyal to death and I admire that of him.”
Alike with many others, Zapata expressed his thoughts on Freas and his spiritual life which is what people will remember about him most.
“His advices about life and about following Je-sus Christ, he was one of the persons that had an answer to everything and those advice helped a lot in every situation he was more than a coach, he was a guide for every single person in the team,” Zapata said.
Other students talked about Freas and his attitude toward the game.
Freas wanted to make it all about the players and credit them for their hard work.
Senior swimmer Jonathan Stewart expressed Freas’s view on individual accomplishments from his players.
“Sam never wanted an award for all of his coaching accomplishments and there were a lot that wanted to give him awards because of the fabulous coach he was,” Stewart said. “He always said it’s about the kids, let them get the awards because they’re the ones who deserve them.”
Graduate of OBU Jennette Lucia Morales talked about how Freas was more than just a coach. He was a mentor, coach and a friend to his players, she said.
“As a swimmer, he gave me an opportunity and helped me snap out of my mentality of what swimming was supposed to be,” Morales said. “He always pushed my limits and had more belief in me than myself,” Morales said.
His current players and former players knew what he cared about most and that was the Lord.
“I believe for Sam it was more than just swimming; I think it was about forming whole thriving kind characters who put God first,” Morales said.
Freas is survived by his wife, Rosemary, his four children, and eleven grandchildren. He will be greatly missed across all of Bison Hill.