|Job change pays off
Former Rancho Cotate coach Mike Freitas leaves cheese factory early in life and lands in school’s athletic hall of fame
Mike Freitas knew a career change was in order shortly after he earned his degree from San Jose State University.
The Petaluma native said he was floundering around and stuck in a job he really had no desire to do.
“I had graduated and I couldn’t find a job right away in the late 1970s,” Freitas said. “So, I went to work for a year at a cheese factory just to pay the bills. And I said, ‘this is not what I spent all that time in school and preparing myself for. This was not my first love.’”
Freitas’ first loves are sports and competition. He played both football and basketball at St. Vincent’s High School in Petaluma and wanted to continue his involvement in sports in some capacity.
Finally, he got his opportunity to pursue his career in teaching and coaching. A job opening popped up in Sonoma County for an assistant track and field coach. Freitas at first believed the opportunity was at Petaluma High School, but he learned it was a position at Rancho Cotate High in Rohnert Park.
This was back in 1977, and Freitas spent the next 33 years at Rancho Cotate before retiring in 2010. After taking the position as the assistant track and field coach, he subsequently coached junior varsity and freshman football and boys basketball. He actually was the boys’ basketball head coach for 12 years (1986-1998). Freitas was honored as the North Bay League’s Coach of the Year in 1989 and 1992.
On Saturday, April 20, he’ll be inducted along with several others into the Rancho Cotate High Athletic Hall of Fame.
“I never made a basket or scored a touchdown for Rancho Cotate, so the kids I’ve been around all those years have been the one’s who helped get me to the Hall of Fame,” Freitas said. “It’s really a great honor. It’s a privilege and an honor to have coached so many great athletes and so many great student athletes at Rancho Cotate.”
Joined by ex-players
He’ll go into the Hall of Fame with two of the athletes he coached, basketball players Mark Hedeen and De’ Shea Daniels. Other inductees for the fourth RC Hall class include athletes Mike Stephens, Mark Clarey, Greg Fogg, Jim Knight, Larry O’Connor, Lynette Coulter, Torin Schultz, Tracy Williams, Jon Foye, Chris Stevens, Mary Chapman, Alex Morrow and Jenny Johnson, coach John Gulbransen, the 1983 girls’ varsity volleyball team and Jimmie Rogers for distinguished service to the school.
Festivities, including the induction dinner and award ceremony, will begin at 5 p.m. at the Community Center, located at 5401 Snyder Lane.
Every coach has a burning desire to win games, and Freitas was no different. But he understood his role, especially on the junior varsity and freshman levels, was to prepare the athletes to compete at the varsity level.
“It’s about development,” he said. “You’re teaching them the basics for what the varsity coach wants…the offense and defense. I enjoyed the lower levels as much as varsity.”
As much as Freitas has helped mold some of his players, he says he learned a lot from other coaches such as the late Norm Hansen, Ron Lunsford, Donna McKenna and Hank Sarlotte, to name a few.
Surrounded by the best
“You know the old saying, you’re only as good as the people around you, so you surround yourself with good people,” Freitas said. “You know how important that is in life. The people I mentioned are just some of those who helped shape and define my philosophy for teaching and coaching.”
Freitas acknowledges he is one of the people in life who was fortunate enough to do something in life he truly loved. And he imparted that philosophy to his children.
“I told my son that you’re going to work at a job the rest of your life, so you want to pursue something you enjoy and have an interest in doing,” he said. “When I first got my job, and this was before the house mortgage and my first kid, I said, ‘they’re going to pay me to do this? How lucky am I?”
Ultimate coach’s wife
He also said his career would not have been as enjoyable if not for his wife, Barb, with whom he’ll celebrate his 34th anniversary in November.
“She’s the ultimate coaches wife and has always, always supported me,” he said.
Freitas also has a daughter, 29-year-old Amber, who is involved in the cheerleading program as a volunteer at Petaluma High. His son, Anthony, is studying in Southern California in the field of physical therapy.
When he looks back on his career, Freitas says he’ll most remember the interaction with the players.
“I always enjoyed making connections with the kids and the interpersonal relationships with them,” he said. “All that was more important than wins and losses.”