As Chad Blossfield, the popular young teacher at Maple Grove Grade School in Greenfield, loudly took issue with Sandra Kay Brodhagen that day in May 1965, she just sat there and took his verbal abuse.
“He was yelling at me and yelling at me and yelling at me and I didn’t say a word,” she said.
Blossfield was taking Brodhagen to task for an error in the school newspaper that she knew wasn’t her fault. Nevertheless, the eighth grader allowed him to carry on during the waning days of her esteemed elementary school days before heading home with her insides churning.
That night, Sandra heard her mother answer the door bell. In walked Blossfield, a bat boy for the 1957 World Series champion Milwaukee Braves who would one day pursue a career with the FBI.
“My mother said, ‘Sandra, you have to come talk to Mr. Blossfield,’ ” she said. “I didn’t really want to go talk to him because I was crying. But he sat me down at the kitchen table with mom and he said, ‘Sandy, I’m not mad at you, but you have to learn to speak up for yourself. I was trying to see if you would speak up for yourself because I was blaming you for something you didn’t do. You can do real amazing things, but you have to learn to take risks and you also have to stand up for yourself.’ ”
Nearly a half century later, someone the Racine community has long known as Sandy Freres has truly answered Blossfield’s challenge by accomplishing so many amazing things.
“That is really what changed me,” Freres said of Blossfield’s tough love.
As athletic director of The Prairie School since 1985, Freres not only was one of the pioneers for her gender in this profession, she has become one of the finest in the nation.
After a litany of achievements and honors over the years, the signature moment of Freres’ career came this month, when she was one of eight recipients of the National Federation of High Schools Citation Award. The 63-year-old Freres received her award Dec. 15 in National Harbor, Md.
Her numerous accomplishments include serving on a three-member committee that oversaw the 2000 merger of the public and private schools, helping plan Prairie’s state-of-the-art Johnson Athletic Center, forging a new era of cooperation with the other schools in Racine County and having a knack for making any Prairie student feel like the epicenter of the universe.
Mr. Blossfield, Freres has certainly heeded your call.
Frreres’ ascent picked up speed in the early 1980s, when Al Bill started grooming Freres to replace him as Prairie’s athletic director for when he eventually moved on. Freres privately chafed when Bill used to load her down with responsibilities in those days, but when he left Prairie in 1985, she came to understand his motives.
Besides, Bill wouldn’t have wasted his time on just anyone.
“Sandy knew how to make others around her better,” said Bill, the Twin Cities Director for the Society of Jesus who lives in Victoria, Minn. “I absolutely knew Sandy was and would be one of the best athletic administrators in the State of Wisconsin because of her drive to work hard for the good of the program and for others around her.”
Her goodwill radiates more than ever. That was underscored when Case Athletic Director Eugene Syvrud was recently asked to email a few thoughts about Freres and he responded with six paragraphs of accolades. Among the highlights were:
- “Going to a convention with her is remarkable because everyone respects her and looks up to her because she is a very knowledgeable and caring person.”
- “I run a lot of ideas by her because I know that I will get a truthful answer and a yes vote by Sandy brings instant credibility to your plan.”
Racine Lutheran Athletic Director Jason Block has experienced that same Sandy touch.
“I really believe that she just loves kids so much that she is willing to do whatever she can to enrich their experience and advocate for them,“ Block said.
But then, Freres has always been about winning over people. Early in the 1985-86 school year, Freres had the title of Acting Athletic Director when a member of the Prairie faculty poked his head into her office and flatly said he didn’t support her promotion.
“I’m going to be keeping an eye on you,” he warned Freres.
Fast forward to the end of that school year.
“He came into my office and said, ‘You did all right,’ ” Freres said. “If there’s anything you need, you come call me.”
Those same words could serve as Freres’ mission statement for all these years.