To many, as Sam Lewis put it, Fred Summers was a name that crossed generations and ideals.
“As far as the education and sports world, he was Mr. Wilmington,” Lewis said of his friend of 70 years who passed away peacefully May 26.
Summers was 84.
“When I heard (of his passing), my heart just dropped,” said Greg Nared, Wilmington High School legend who went through the school system during Fred’s time as an administrator. “First thing that came to my mind was just an amazing, amazing human being. Compassionate, dependable and I don’t use that word lightly.”
A Celebration of Life for Fred Summers will be held 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at “Fred Summers Court”, the Wilmington High School varsity basketball venue named in Fred’s honor. Because of his love of sports, those who attend are asked to wear their favorite sports team casual attire.
A member of the Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame and the Wilmington High School Wall of Fame, Summers status grew with each and every step of his life. He was a 1956 graduate of WHS and a 1960 graduate of Wilmington College.
He earned nine varsity letters in high school, starring in football, basketball, track and field. On the basketball court, Summers was credited with a state record 21 assists in a single WHS game, a number that was equaled twice and surpassed just once since Summers hung up his orange and black Chuck Taylors nearly 70 years ago
He was awarded the Denver Williams Cup for scholar-athlete in 1956. He played two years of basketball at Wilmington College. Fred went on to coach at Wilmington High School, winning six SCOL titles in 11 years, in track, basketball and baseball.
He was a football official more than 30 years, earning a place in the state football officials hall of fame. He was a teacher, an athletic director, a principal. He was so much more.
“He meant a lot to a lot of people through the years,” Lewis said. “He was a natural leader. I think that was his greatest attribute. He was a man of integrity. He was pretty straight-forward; you knew where you stood.”
Fred attended 82 of a possible 83 Clinton County Fairs in his lifetime, taking his love of all things Wilmington and Clinton County well beyond a school system.
Nared said “Mr. Summers” was one of the first people he knew who didn’t see male or female, black or white, rich or poor.
“He was inclusive of people of color, gender, my first as a young boy,” said Nared. “He invited everybody to the party and gave them a voice. With inclusiveness, you have to be brave. To be able to do that when I was growing up wasn’t easy in our little town.”
Nared went on to have great success as an athlete, businessman, friend, family man and author. He believes Summers was a key part of all that success.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see,” said Nared.
While he enjoyed watching sports, Fred was never one to shy away from a good story. He and Lewis went to the state basketball tournament one year with just a single ticket and a lifetime memory.
Fred anxiously told Lewis he’d get him in the gate to watch prep superstar and future Buckeye Jimmy Jackson on the state’s big stage at St. John Arena.
Without a ticket, Fred instructed his friend to find a matchbook cover on the ground outside the entrance. Lewis did find the matchbook but remained terrified of getting caught. “We can’t do this, Fred,” Lewis proclaimed. “They’re gonna throw us outta here.”
Fred was confident, though. He put the matchbook behind the real ticket, told Lewis to grab hold of his belt loop and follow closely as they walked with a purpose to the man at the turnstile.
Whoosh, just like that the two were in, a matchbook cover representing a way in to see one of the biggest stars in Ohio basketball history.
Fred couldn’t resist moments later, bursting out in laughter. He’d known the ticket-taker for more than 30 years and had arranged the whole entrance scheme in advance.
“Fred was a character,” Lewis said. “Man, I’m going to miss him.”