ATHLETIC HALL OF FAME
2020 InducteesPosted by Exeter Alumni on 1/24/2020
From left are Betsy King, Jean Frey and Dee Kantner during a banquet before the induction ceremony for the Exeter High School Berks championship girls basketball teams from 1972-73, 1975-76, and 1976-77
A girls basketball dynasty, the first in Berks, began with Jean Frey going to her neighbor’s house to watch TV.
Frey was around nine and she tuned in to see the Boston Celtics on Sundays. She was captivated by Bob Cousy running the fast break.
Soon, she started playing whenever there was a free minute. She’d feed the cattle on her pop's farm, get in a bunch of shots, then give the cattle their hay.
The only glitch was where the basket was placed. If she went in too fast for a layup, she’d crash into the garage door.
“I’d shoot as much as I could,” Frey said. “I was a tomboy. That’s just the way it was.”
Frey became a legend. Not for her jumper. For her coaching. She guided Exeter for 18 seasons until 1985, won three county championships and a district title.
All three county championship teams, from 1973, 1976 and 1977, were inducted into Exeter’s Hall of Fame at a ceremony Friday night.
Among Frey’s players were some of the county’s most famous alumni, including Golf Hall of Famer Betsy King and NCAA basketball referee Dee Kantner.
“She was one of the most influential people in my life and in a lot of people’s lives,” Kantner said. “She wasn’t easy to play for. She was very demanding. She was intense. But, truly, she not only taught you basketball but how to behave. She taught you how to be a good person.”
Frey helped usher in girls basketball as it is today. It went from six-player, with three girls on each side of the court, to five-on-five in 1969-70.
Three years later, under pressure from Frey and the other women coaches, the first Berks playoffs were scheduled. Exeter defeated Gov. Mifflin. King helped capture the trophy.
“Jean really was a pioneer for a women’s coach,” King said. “She would scout other teams. What high school coach did that back then? Nobody did. She really loved basketball.”
Exeter’s dominance continued with the growth of the sport. The 1976 team, with Courtney Lutz and Gigi Evans, went 18-2 and stunned Holy Name for county gold.
The following season was arguably the school’s greatest. Exeter, led by Jane Strause, Michele Yoder and Donna Egbert, won 17 consecutive games and took home county and district trophies. They went 29-3.
Kantner was part of the 1976 and 1977 teams. Those remain some of her fondest memories.
“The requirements Coach Frey had and the expectations she had, some people today might see that as abusive,” Kantner said. “Absolutely not. She had to kick us out of the gym. She’d say, ‘Your parents are expecting you home for dinner.’ We still wanted to play.”
Frey, who ran an intramural program on Saturdays, steered Exeter through a golden age of athletes. They were multi-sport stars who were self-motivated.
There were outdoor courts next to the high school, where the cafeteria now stands. If you put in a quarter, you could play under the lights. The girls put in their quarters.
“I wanted kids to be fundamentally sound,” Frey said. “I wanted them to be disciplined. I wanted them to be good students. These kids worked hard. They would have played basketball 13 months a year.”
Frey was a taskmaster. She somehow managed to be strict and still beloved. She received a standing ovation when she was introduced at the Hall of Fame dinner.
When she reached the podium, she whistled and people laughed. Players know that whistle.
Kantner, after she graduated from high school, was running down the beach one day when she heard that high-pitched sound. Frey just happened to be there. Kantner stopped in her tracks.
“It was Pavlovian,” she said. “I wouldn’t drool but she would whistle and we knew. Turn and stop. Total command. We were all trained very well by the whistle. She still has it and we all still respond accordingly.”
The 1973 team, forever the first county champ, started five seniors. King was joined by Joan Ellison, Carmen Morrison, Carol Shappell and Sharon Wegman.
In the closing minutes of the final, with Exeter holding a lead, Frey told the players not to shoot anything but a layup. Wegman fired up a 20-footer. While the ball was in the air, King remembers hearing Frey yell out the player’s name. Wegman!
“The only reason you’re alive,” Frey said later, “is because it went in.”
After the dinner, Frey asked Exeter athletic director Tom Legath if they could all visit her team’s old gym.
“You mean the auxiliary gym?” Legath asked.
“Our gym,” Frey emphasized.
There were plenty of laughs and hugs amidst a backdrop of old newspaper clippings and trophies. Everyone savored a trip back in time to when Exeter ruled girls basketball and Frey helped mold the sport’s future here.
In black and white photos, Exeter's players wore sleeved jerseys with collars. They played in Chuck Taylors.
Wearing that uniform carried an obligation.
“We knew that if you played for Coach Jean Frey, there was pride in that,” Kantner said. “The expectation was that you were going to be good. We knew she had a lot of respect throughout the county. We tried to fulfill those expectations of excellence.”