Gabe Freeman had always dreamed of playing tackle football but never imagined he actually would. None of his family members or friends played the game, and when he joined Milken Community High School in 2009, the institution — like many other Jewish private schools — offered no opportunities to learn the sport.
That all changed when, while on an extended stay in Israel during his sophomore year, Freeman received an e-mail from a Milken teacher and coach inviting him to join the school’s first tackle football team. Two determined mothers had persuaded school officials to set up the team, even finding a field for the players to practice on.
“I was so excited,” recalled Freeman, an avid sportsman. “I always imagined I could play, I just never imagined I’d have the opportunity to play.”
Freeman not only played, he became the star of the team. Over his two-year football career at Milken, he scored the school record of 31 touchdowns and was named Most Valuable Player in both his junior and senior years. As co-captain in his senior year, he helped his team qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs. His football coach, Greg Weiss, described Freeman as one of the most outstanding athletes he’s ever worked with, as well as a skillful and thoughtful team player.
“In my over 30 years of coaching, he’s got to be one of the top players I’ve coached, as far as physical gifts,” Weiss commented. “And he happens to be a better person than player even. He’s tremendously unselfish.”
[Next Grad: Michael Sacks]
Football wasn’t Freeman’s only pastime at Milken. The 18-year-old, who graduated June 2, also played point guard on the varsity basketball team for two years, and co-captained the school’s golf team. He made two trips to Israel as part of academic programs, volunteered picking fruit for the hungry and teaching basketball to special-needs children, served on the Student Judiciary council, and was sports editor and co-editor of the high school’s newspaper, the Milken Roar. He did all this while artfully juggling his schoolwork, including honors and Advanced Placement classes.
The visits to Israel were among his most profound experiences as a high school student, Freeman said. As a participant in Milken’s Tiferet Israel Fellowship, Freeman spent four months in Israel as a sophomore attending an Israeli school and visiting numerous historic sites. He remembers the joy of feeling a connection to everyone around him because all the people he met were Jewish.
During his senior year, Freeman returned to Israel and also visited former concentration camps in Poland as part of the March of the Living program. He described the visits to the camps as “intense,” a chilling lesson on the Holocaust that he won’t forget.
“When you’re actually there and can try and start imagining the magnitude of these events, you start to understand a bit better what happened there and to appreciate everything you have,” he said. “You realize how important it is to continue supporting Israel and making sure it will always be there for the next generation.”
Freeman will attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall, where he plans to study business.