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Barber Park basketball courts named for MEAC Commissioner


Ken Free Sr. surrounded by family and friends. Photo by Joe Daniels/ Carolina Peacemaker

Long-time sports advocate and the first full-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Commissioner (MEAC), Kenneth “Ken” Free Sr., was honored at a groundbreaking ceremony on November 16 at Barber Park. Greensboro Parks and Recreation is naming a new outdoor basketball court and the existing indoor courts at the George C. Simkins Indoor Sports Pavilion at Barber Park in Free’s honor.

“He is a true pioneer, a trailblazer,” said Sharon Hightower, District 1 City Councilmember. “He set the standard and paved the way in ways we never knew. This court is attached to what he spent his life fighting for and all he gave back to the community.”

Free’s involvement with Greensboro Parks and Recreation helped establish the first basketball courts erected in that area. Free was also surprised with a bronze plaque engraved with his name and biography, which will be installed at the outdoor court.

“Naming the courts at Barber Park after Free is a perfect recognition befitting for someone who gave so much to this community and beyond,” said Justin Washington, chairman of the Greensboro Parks and Recreation Commission.

Free is a former Greensboro Parks and Recreation Commissioner. He set the bar high as an accomplished athlete, recreation professional, and collegiate athletics administrator. Free played professional baseball, joining the Negro League in 1959, playing with the Raleigh Tigers, the Hickory Rebels, and spent three seasons in the New York Mets organization under their expansion team, the Raleigh Capitals of the Carolina League.

Free is a graduate of both Greensboro’s Dudley High School and North Carolina A&T State University. He began his athletic administration career as the director of Windsor Recreation Center before moving on to become a Regional Parks/Recreation consultant for the state of North Carolina Department of Natural and Economic Resources.

In 1978, he became the first full-time commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), where he helped build exposure for athletes at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Free was instrumental in the drive for MEAC institutions to attain NCAA Division I status, which became a reality in 1980.

In 1987, he was named to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Selection Committee, becoming the first African American appointed to that group. Free later served as commissioner of the Eastern Intercollegiate Athletic Association from 1996 to 2006. In retirement, he has volunteered with the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League, helping to connect youth from urban areas to the sport of baseball.

“It’s all about the good Lord putting us in the places where we need to be,” said Free.

He has been inducted into the sports halls of fame at N.C. A&T State University, Dudley High School, and Guilford County; and most recently was honored in the 2018 class of the South Atlantic League Hall of Fame. Free is also a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of the state’s highest civilian honors presented by the governor.

“I may not deserve this honor, but I sure needed it,” Free joked at the ceremony. “This means the world to me. I’ve gotten other recognitions, but this has really touched me. I’m thankful that I’m still here to see the progress here and this monument that will go on long after me.”