PAWTUCKET — Freddy Gobewole is making a name for himself in this city, first as an all-state football player for Shea High last autumn and then as the New England high school indoor track champion at 55 meters.
Those are the two sports that most people associate with this young man. But there is more to his story. Like so many of his contemporaries, Freddy is battling to find his way out of poverty, trying to carve his own niche through sports while improving his academic skills at Blackstone Academy Charter School, which is located a couple hundred yards from Max Read Field, the gridiron where he has starred for the past two autumns.
“Freddy wants to make something of himself,” says his football coach, Dino Campopiano. “He is a wonderful kid who has great instincts and God-given talent in football. He played most of his senior season with a serious shoulder injury. Freddy is a very motivated young man.”
Indoor track coach Mike Goodson sees that same kind of drive from Gobewole.
“Freddy came to our team as a sophomore and he has gotten better each year,” Goodson admits. “He works hard. He lifts weights. He practices his starts over and over again. Freddy is our first New England indoor champion at Shea since Manny Karngar won the 600-meter race back in 2002.”
When someone asks Gobewole, who stands 5-7 and weighs 165 pounds, what motivates him, the genial teenager pauses for a second.
“Do you mean in sports?”
“No, as a person.”
Freddy smiles and starts talking.
“My family is from Providence,” he said. “We lived in Central Falls for awhile. My mother supports us. My father, who is Liberian, is not with us. My brother Stephen is a senior at URI. At home, it’s just me and my younger brother James. When I started going to school in Pawtucket as a freshman, it was kind of crazy. The classes were too big for me. My mother wanted me to go to a smaller school.”
After struggling through ninth grade, Gobewole and his mother went to a lottery selection process for Blackstone Academy and hit the lucky number on their first try. The odds of a student gaining admission to Blackstone are usually about 25 per cent on their first attempt.
Blackstone Academy Principal Kyleen Carpenter explains how Blackstone was such a good fit for Gobewole.
“We are a public school and we are also a charter school,” she points out. “That gives us certain liberties. We can build a smaller atmosphere here at Blackstone. Our classes could have as few as five students or as many as 20 or 22. We attract students who need a lot of individual attention. Freddy is one of them. He really had some problems when he first came to us. Freddy had been trying to charm his way through classes. He had some attention issues that needed to be addressed. Once he got past that, Freddy has thrived here. He is a very creative student.”
Blackstone Academy pays membership dues to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League and the Principal’s Association that governs high school sports in the state.
“We don’t have enough students to field sports teams,” Carpenter says. “But as a member of the Interscholastic League, we can apply for a waiver that allows students like Freddy to play for their local high school team. Freddy is not the only one of our students who plays varsity sports. The two co-captains of the Central Falls basketball team, Ryan Murray and Cliff Johnson, are also Blackstone students. Last year, two of Tolman’s football players , Jordan Johnson and Jordan White, went to school here. We also have some girls who play varsity sports.”
Gobewole resumes his story at this point.
“I didn’t play sports in my sophomore year,” he says. “I thought I was too young and the coaches wouldn’t play me. I was pretty small, too. I guess I just lacked confidence.”
Gobewole starred for the Edgewood Pop Warner program in his junior high days, and his reputation as a football player was not unknown to Campopiano. By his junior year, Gobewole was a key member of Shea High’s football team.
“Football is the sport I grew up on,” Freddy says. “I love football. Against Central High last year, I popped my shoulder out three times and went back in the game each time. But after the fourth time, I knew I couldn’t go back in. I wanted to play to help my teammates win the game. That’s what motivates me in football … helping my teammates.”
Gobewole missed two games, then came back to finish the season, earning MVP honors after he scored both Shea touchdowns (on runs of 51 and 16 yards) in a 14-7 Thanksgiving Eve victory over Tolman.
Then it was on to indoor track season. Gobewole finished third in the state last winter and spring in his two specialties, the 55-meter dash and the 100-meter dash. The two runners ahead of him both graduated, making Freddy one of the leading contenders for a state championship in his senior year. Freddy came through at the state meet, winning in a quick time of 6.43 seconds, then fell ill in the week leading up to the New England championships.
“I would train and be very tired,” he said. “I got to the New England meet and in my first preliminary race, I slacked off and barely won. In the finals, I was facing a guy from Salem, N.H. who was ranked 11th in the country with a best time of 6.3. I knew I had to get off to a fast start and I did. I won the race and became New England champion.
“Track is starting to become my favorite sport,” Freddy adds, his smile showing again. “It could be my way out. Most people don’t see Rhode Island as a football state. If I do well in track, I might be able to get into college that way.”
Rhode Island College is one of several local schools interested in Gobewole, who could turn some more heads with a strong outdoor season.
“Track is more of an individual sport,” he says. “I knew I was fast and that if I got some good coaching, I could get better.”
One last question: What makes Freddy run? What drives this good-natured teenager who fits in so well with his classmates at Blackstone Academy?
“I’m just trying to be successful,” he says. “Make it out of the city, get my college degree, do well in life. My brother Stephen is showing me the way. I have my younger brother James coming after me. I know the athletics are not always going to be there for me. My goal is to get through college and have a good life.”