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Evelyn and Will Freeman to retire after 40 years

Evelyn and Will Freeman will retire this year after having coached the Grinnell College track & field team for the past 40 years. Photo contributed by Justin Hayworth, Grinnell College

After 40 years of coaching cross country and track & field at Grinnell, Will and Evelyn Freeman have decided to step down and leave the program after this season. Although they loved coaching at Grinnell, they cited age and family as key factors in making the decision to not comeback.  

“Will’s 65. I turn 65 next year. We have three children, and although we don’t have any grandchildren yet, that’s probably coming fairly soon. And so, we don’t just want to be grandparents. We want to do grandparenting and have the time for that,” said Evelyn.  

Looking back at their legacies, the Freeman duo will go down as two of the most successful coaches in the history of Grinnell athletics.  

Since the Freemans arrived in 1980, the men’s cross country team has won a sizable 29 MWC Championships, including 24 straight at one point; likewise, the women’s cross country team has gained 17 MWC Championships since then. The men’s and women’s track teams have also won multiple MWC Championships with the Freemans. 

Despite their extremely high rate of success, they claim that winning has never been a focal point throughout their tenure. 

“When it’s all said and done, people don’t talk much about the conference championships and things like that. Our goal here has always been to create an environment where people can grow,” Will said.  

While the Freemans have thrived in their coaching role at Grinnell, their journey ending up here was partly based on luck.  

Will and Evelyn originally met each other at a track meet in Canada, where they were both competing. Will was an internationally-ranked pole vaulter at the University of Florida, and Evelyn was a high jumper for the University of Toronto. At one of the meets they were competing in, the high jump and pole vault were right next to each other, and the two started talking. They ended up going out on a date, and fell in love. 

After they both graduated from college, they had no initial plan to get into coaching. However, after having trouble finding jobs in their areas of study, they decided to look elsewhere. 

“There was this little school in Iowa who wanted a husband and wife team to come in and coach track, to replace a husband and wife team who coached track. Our thought was, let’s apply for it, and it’ll give us something to do for a year or two until we decide what we really want to do,” Will said. 

Little did they know, they were about to live the rest of their lives in the little town of Grinnell, Iowa. 

“After about 4–5 years, we began to realize, oh my god, this place is a gold mine. We didn’t even know it at the time. We’ve had one job since college,” Will said. 

“At Grinnell, everybody’s so different from each other which is great, because that allows for more opportunity to learn, grow and collaborate with one another,” Evelyn said.  

According to the Freeman’s, understanding Grinnellians and the type of people that come to Grinnell has undoubtedly been the biggest key to their success. They focus on presenting all the information that can help put their runners in a position of success, and then letting them figure it out the rest of the way. 

Their longtime experience of working with student-athletes has solidified the culture of their teams, and runners have fully embraced it. 

“Anything that you ever experience, they have a story or they can relate to it in some way or another,” women’s cross country captain Tori Laverdiere ’20 said. “It builds up a team culture around the idea that this is bigger than any one of us.” 

After this season, Will and Evelyn will remain on campus, despite not coaching anymore. Will will be teaching a tutorial, and Evelyn will be leading fitness classes directed towards non-student-athletes, yet their coaching experiences at Grinnell will stick with them forever. 

“We’ve learned to look at the big picture. Sure we train to run fast, jump high and throw far, but ultimately, it’s all about growing stronger people and leaders,” Evelyn said.  

Evelyn and Will Freeman will retire this year after having coached the Grinnell College track & field team for the past 40 years. Photo contributed by Justin Hayworth, Grinnell College.




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    JOE JOHNSTONSep 27, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    AWESOME story . . . AWESOME people ? ?