There wasn’t any one particular memory that jumped out at Ray Frey during Saturday’s induction into the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2018 at Trader Duke’s Hotel in South Burlington.
“In 30 years of coaching, with 90 kids each year, you’re asking for the impossible,” the former St. Johnsbury Academy track and field coach said with a smile during a Wednesday interview at the Caledonian-Record. “There were so many good kids, if I named a few I’m sure I’d leave a few out, and that would be an insult to them. I couldn’t pinpoint just a few. I had athletes who set state records and who were great athletes in many events.”
Frey was among 11 Vermont sports greats named to this year’s sixth class of inductees. They were informed by the VSHOF in February of their selections.
Frey (pronounced ‘Fray’) coached the St. Johnsbury Academy Hilltoppers to 20 track & field state championships, 16 with the boys track & field team and four with the girls. He coached numerous individual state championships and also led the Hilltoppers to one boys cross country state championship. “That was in the 1950s,” he recalled of the cross country title on Wednesday. “After that, the new headmaster sent a memo out to the faculty that said no Academy coach can coach more than one sport. So I resigned that post after that.” Not a bad way to leave the program, right? “Batting a thousand I guess,” he replied with a laugh.
Gov. Phil Scott was on hand, he noted, to congratulate each of the 11 greats who were similarly honored. Also on hand were several local folks who came over to offer well wishes at the table where coach Frey sat with his wife Caroline, son Scott (SJA Class of 1980), former St. J Academy athletic director Tom Conte and other well-wishers including longtime hall of fame coach Dan Thurston (multiple halls of fame, currently with Lyndon Institute), Tom Lawson (SJA 1955, VSHOF 2015) former SJA basketball coach Layne Higgs (multiple halls of fame), and SJA alum Chris Ryan (1978) were also at the Frey table for the coach, who when asked his age, “I’m past 90, put it that way,” he said.
“It was very nice to be honored, naturally,” he said on Wednesday. “I had my family there and a couple of my grandchildren.” He received congratulatory messages from many former student-athletes, he said. Former SJA basketball coach Layne Higgs “brought a car of people up, and came over [to his table]. It was very nice, an exciting day. It was nice to see people who I do know and hadn’t seen in so many years.”
While he knew of most of the 10 others, fellow inductee and former Essex High School athletic director “Melba Masse I know well. I met with her so many times at different meetings for scheduling.” Inducted as athlete, coach and contributor, Masse coached seven different sports at Essex. She also served in several administrative roles with the NVAC and Vermont Principal’s Association.
“There’s no other coach in the history of this school who comes close to Ray Frey’s record for state championships,” Conte said in October 2009 when it was voted to name the track and field facility after Frey. “He’s a legend in the sport of track and field at the state level, and I can’t think of anyone more deserving to name a track after than this coach, who always brought out the best in his athletes.”
One of those was Chip Langmaid, a long-distance runner under Frey and currently coach of Hilltoppers boys and girls programs that have grown into the best in the state. A great recruiter who got kids interested and participating in the sport, coach Frey “has been very supportive during my coaching career, always giving me great tips and advice,” Langmaid said in October 2009.
“Coach Frey did a great job and was brief and to the point,” Ryan said. “I timed him at about a three-minute thank-you speech. Great evening for all things related to the strong traditions of SJA.”