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Bobbie (Simpson) Freeman Still Thriving Through Officiating After Legendary Careers in Basketball and Volleyball at Clarion Area High School 30 Years Ago

LUCINDA, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Bobbie (Simpson) Freeman sprinted from one end of the basketball court to the other at Armstrong High School in March, a whistle clamped between her teeth and a photo of her late mother tucked in her pocket.

(Above, from left, Bobbie Freeman with daughter, Kinsley, husband, Kyle, and daughter Kyler)

A PIAA official for seven years, Freeman was working a PIAA girls semifinal game. It brought back a flood of memories, some of her mother, who had died just a few years prior.

“She always said I was happiest on the court,” Freeman said. “I felt her with me.”

Thoughts cascaded through Freeman’s mind on that night.

Like the time she played in a PIAA semifinal of her own for Clarion as a senior in 1992, jumping into the arms of coach Rick Rathfon after the Bobcats beat Avonworth to advance to the state title game.

Like the time she scored her 1,000th point on Valentine’s Day in 1991 — her parents’ anniversary.

Like all those games she played in basketball and volleyball — her mother, Georgia, in the stands for every single one of them.

“Life is about great experiences and memories,” Freeman said.

She’s had plenty of both as a legend in both basketball and volleyball at Clarion Area High School. She continues to make them as a PIAA official in both sports and as a coach.

(Freeman with former Clarion coach Rick Rathfon)

Freeman, who is a special education teacher at Clarion-Limestone Elementary, has two daughters of her own now — Kyler, 14, who will be a freshman this year at North Clarion; and Kinsley, who will be a sixth-grader.

She wants them to have their own great experiences and to make their own memories.

Both of her girls are athletic and driven. Kyler is already 5-foot-10 and stands on her tip-toes to reach Freeman’s height of 6-1 — it might not be long before she won’t have to stretch to be as tall.

Kinsley is just a few growth spurts away, Freeman said, from being taller than either of them.

Another thing that has been handed down from Simpson to her daughters is competitiveness.

Kyler has already thrown down the gauntlet, telling North Clarion all-time leading girls basketball scorer Tori Obenrader that she’s coming for her records.

“She told Tori that she was going to break her record,” Freeman said, laughing. “She said, ‘I’m going to beat your records, but you’re still my idol.’”

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.


Freeman has been an idol for many. When she starred at Clarion in the early 1990s, she was an imposing figure inside the paint in basketball and at the net in volleyball.

During her senior season on the basketball court, Freeman scored a staggering 715 points (nearly 23 per game), 465 rebounds (14.5 per game) and 127 blocked shots.

She finished her career with 1,765 points and well over 1,000 rebounds, ranking first in school history in both categories to this day, 30 years after her final game in Clarion colors.

When she was playing, however, Freeman put very little stock in her numbers. She rarely looked at them. Didn’t care if she scored four or 40 — her career high was 41 points. The only statistic she cared about was a binary one: did Clarion win or did Clarion lose.

Clarion won far more than they lost with Freeman in the starting five. That was all that mattered to her.

“Back when I played, it wasn’t about scoring all those points. It was about winning,” Freeman said. “I just came from that old-school way of thinking. I would have given everything back to win. If someone asked, ‘Would you choose all those points, or going to Hershey?’ I feel like I would have given everything back to win a state championship because that’s your ultimate goal.”

Clarion came very close. During that stories senior season Freeman enjoyed, Clarion went 25-7, won 17 games in a row at one point, and reached the PIAA Class A championship game in Hershey.

The Bobcats had a roster full of stars around Freeman, including Kristen Siegel, a 1,000-point scorer as well and a sharpshooter from 3-point range. Freeman was blessed with talented teammates everywhere she turned, but she was the one the opponent most feared.

In the title game, however, Clarion met its match, falling to Lebanon Catholic, 75-57.

The loss was difficult for Freeman to take in what turned out to be a challenging year for her.

Heavily recruited in both basketball and volleyball, Freeman was often overwhelmed by all the attention to the point of frequent tears.

“My senior year, I just hid in my room and cried because all these colleges would call every night,” Freeman said. “I would just cry and say, ‘I just want to be a teacher.’ I didn’t want to worry about all that.

“I went on a big recruiting visit to Penn State for volleyball,” Freeman added. “They recruited me pretty heavily. I had no idea what I was doing. Back then, there wasn’t a lot of guidance. Nobody helped me. I didn’t know what to do.”

Freeman was virtually paralyzed by the process.

Even when Penn State volleyball coach Russ Rose, who just retired after a legendary coaching career that spanned more than three decades, made his best pitch to land the star middle hitter, Freeman balked.

“I’ll never forget sitting at (The Corner Room) restaurant at Penn State with Coach Rose and him saying, ‘You’re a phenomenal athlete. I’ll make you a phenomenal volleyball player,’” Freeman said. “I’ll never forget him telling me that 30 years ago. They offered me a scholarship, half the first year and full after that, but I had to earn it. Financially, we weren’t sure if we could afford it. Honestly, my parents didn’t know anything about student loans or financial aid or anything like that. We were completely clueless. And it was all very scary.”

Because of that, Freeman chose to stay home and attend Clarion University to play volleyball.

She also tried to play basketball there, but said, “it was just too much.”

It’s one of Freeman’s few regrets.

She passes on her experience to help other athletes deal with the stress of recruiting.

Thing are much different now, but athletes can still be overwhelmed with the process like Freeman was 30 years ago.

“Nobody really helped me,” Freeman said. “Now when I’m officiating and I see kids who I know are going to go on to play at a high level, I tell them, ‘Go all the way. You can always come back.’ I still regret that a little bit that I didn’t go all the way.”

Freeman has never regretted getting involved in officiating.

She began that journey nearly seven years ago as a way to stay involved in both basketball and volleyball.

It’s not without its challenges, but Freeman thrives on it.

“It’s been like a godsend. I just absolutely love it,” she said. “I like being with the kids. With the coaches, it’s a relationship. It’s like a marriage. Sometimes you love each other and sometimes you just don’t like each other. The biggest thing, though, is respect. At the end of the day, you have to respect the game and respect each other.”

(Freeman leaps into the arms of Rathfon after Clarion downed Avonworth to advance to the PIAA Class A title game in 1992)

Now that her two daughters are getting older and becoming more involved in sports, they have started to understand what their mother accomplished during her playing days.

Freeman is well-known in the Clarion area. People often stop to chat with her about her glory days. That can sometimes be an eye-opener for Kyler and Kinsley.

“Of course everybody comes up to them who knows who I am,” Freeman said. “But I say, ’Hey, girls, listen. That was like 30 years ago. You have to create your own path and you have to work for what you want. You’re your own individual person.’ Sometimes they kind of get annoyed, ‘Oh, mom knows everybody.’”

Mom also still knows how to play.

She and her two daughters are often outside, shooting hoops or peppering with the volleyball.

It’s a way for them to bond. It’s a passion they all share.

Even now, Freeman has trouble deciding which sport is her favorite. It’s like picking which of her daughters is her favorite: it can’t be done. She loves them both equally with all her heart.

“In our backyard, one minute I’m with my daughters and we’re playing volleyball. The next minute we’re playing basketball,” Freeman said. “Then we’re in the pool and we’re back playing volleyball.”

Officiating never stops for Freeman. In season, she’s sometimes out six days a week — the shortage of officials has been taxing. Even during the summer, Freeman is officiating at summer leagues — she’s been at Redbank Valley frequently for volleyball.

All the while she is still actively involved in her daughters’ activities.

“I love helping the girls and giving them advice,” Freeman said of officiating summer volleyball leagues. “I’ve had the experience, and I was lucky enough to have good people who showed me a lot of great things in high school.”

Freeman was lucky enough to reach milestones in high school at Clarion. She wants to make sure she recognizes anyone for the Bobcats who also achieves a milestone.

That’s why Freeman sends a congratulatory card to any Clarion player who reaches 1,000 points.

When Maci Thornton scored her 1,00th point at the end of her junior season, Freeman was there with a smile, a hug and a card.

Thornton had the best shot to catch Freeman’s record, but ended up shy at 1,579 points when she graduated in 2015.

Kait Constantino was the latest to crack 1,000 points, piling up 1,316 in her career, which ended in 2020.

In all, seven Clarion players are in the 1,000-point club with Freeman still at the top.

She knows that one day someone will bump her off the No. 1 spot.

“Like my husband says, ‘All records are meant to be broken,’” Freeman said. “Maybe eventually, one day, mine will be broken and that’ll be great.”

Freeman hopes she will be there to see it — with a card and a hug for the newly crowned points leader.

“You look and it’s 30 years later and you go, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of points.’ I never realized it at the time,” she said. “I hope someone breaks it and we can have a big celebration for her. It’s something that I’m very proud of, but, of course, I wouldn’t have scored all those points if I didn’t have good guards to give me the ball. It was a very emotional part of my life and I’m grateful every day I got to experience it.”

Clarion Area High School sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Redbank Chevrolet and DuBrook.

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