RACINE — A young Bill Frayer was throwing a football around with his dad, Wayne, maybe 60 years ago, but this boy just wasn’t into it. Bill lackadaisically tossed the ball back to his father until Wayne, who had an old-school factory work ethic, had seen enough and admonished his son.
“I didn’t play sports real well because I was so small,” Frayer said. “I was out on a practice field playing catch with him and I was half-heartedly throwing the ball around and he made a federal case out of it.
“He said, ‘If you’re going to go out and practice, you’re going to do it the right way! You’re going to run full-blast and throw full-blast and you’re going to put your heart into whatever you’re doing.’ “
Bill never forgot that.
The scene shifts to an August day in the cramped, steamy hot confines of an upstairs equipment room in Horlick High School’s John R. Belden Fieldhouse. A large group of young athletes are days away from reporting to their first practice of the season and, well, let’s let Horlick football coach Brian Fletcher pick up on this story.
“Our storage rooms used to be upstairs and there was no ventilation,” Fletcher said. “At the beginning of every season from when I played and all through the years I coached, Bill Frayer would be up there two to three weeks before the season started labeling and organizing.
“It was dirty, there was no ventilation and there was hot, stagnant air. And Bill would be up there with a small fan, just working his tail off making sure everything was ready for the start of the season.
“You can’t put a price tag on something like that.”
A well-deserved retirement
The time has come for Frayer, who has served as Horlick’s volunteer equipment manager since 1977, to step away. At the age of 71, he’s opening up the rest of his life for — you guessed it — devoting more volunteer hours to endeavors that include the Knights of Columbus and St. Vincent De Paul.
In true Frayer fashion, he gave Fletcher a three-year notice in 2016 of when he would be retiring. As usual, he wasn’t going to leave anything to chance.
“At the banquet the other night, they called me a servant leader,” Frayer said. “And in a sense, that’s true. I’ve just always been a guy who wanted to get involved in the program, do the best I could, lead by example and hopefully show that by going out there and doing the job the best that you can that it would rub off on other people and they would do the same thing.”
Service to others. That’s been Frayer’s life mantra. In addition to his 42-year commitment to Horlick’s football program, he has served as the timer for the school’s basketball, wrestling and volleyball teams.
How many sporting events has he worked since 1977? Maybe 4,000. How many has he missed? Just a handful and none because of sickness. Only some other volunteer commitment has prevented him from being there for Horlick.
And it has extended to other family members. That man with a clipboard on Horlick’s sideline is Mark Frayer, one of Bill’s four children, who has kept game statistics for years the old-fashioned way — with a pencil and clipboard. Working behind the scenes is Bill’s wife, Virginia, who has served as the team’s seamstress.
Bill Frayer, a 1965 St. Catherine’s High School graduate, started his professional career as a 21-year-old history and psychology teacher at Horlick in 1969 after graduating from Dominican College. By 1972, Frayer was operating the scoreboard for Horlick basketball games, but he was moved to Park in 1975 when there was a shift in enrollment.
He actually got his start as a football equipment manager for future Hall-of-Famer Phil Dobbs, then in his third season as Park’s coach. Frayer moved back to Horlick in 1977, the year after the Rebels played in the first WIAA championship game for football held in Wisconsin.
Through the coaching tenures of Brad Smith (1977-80), Dave Krause (1981-84), Bill Eaton (1985-92), George Machado (1993-2009) and Fletcher (2010-present), Frayer has been there. And he has seen so much.
While numerous superior athletes passed through Horlick’s football program during Frayer’s time, the greatest athlete he saw at the school didn’t wear shoulder pads. Instead, it was Robert Berryhill, who was the AP Player of the Year in basketball in Wisconsin as a senior in 1986.
“Berryhill was probably the best player I saw in the 50 years I was there,” Frayer said. “He could take a ball, palm it one hand, start out from the free-throw line, take a step and a half and be one foot above the rim! It was incredible what he could do with the ball!”
At the top of his list of most memorable football games was Oct. 9, 1999. Horlick, playing Kenosha Tremper in the Badger Challenge at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, rallied from a 25-14 deficit with two minutes, 14 seconds to play to win 26-25.
“Tremper was a powerhouse and we weren’t all that good, but we managed to play a tremendous game and we beat them in the last minute,” Frayer said. “It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Just as Frayer, himself, won’t soon be forgotten. That was evident the night of Dec. 16, when Fletcher made an emotional speech to honor Frayer’s retirement during the teams’ football banquet at Roma Lodge.
“Bill has been a staple of our program for so many years,” Fletcher said. “Bill has impacted so many lives and his career can be summed up in two words: servant leader.
“We have an annual award called, ‘The Bill Frayer Servant Leadership Award.’ It’s really what Bill is all about — working to make things better for the Horlick community without expecting any spotlight in return.
“It’s never been about him. He’s just a great servant leader.”