Ambrose Brazelton Taught Students Respect
By John Higgins
and Jewell Cardwell
Beacon Journal staff writers
Published on Wednesday, Jun 30, 2010
The uncoordinated, overweight kid picked last for baseball always had a champion in Ambrose ”Braz” Brazelton.
Mr. Brazelton lovingly gave his stout students the collective name “Fat Freddy,” but they were never outcasts in the physical education classes he taught in Akron from 1952 to 1965.
And he fought for “Fat Freddy” when he supervised elementary physical education for the whole state and advised the Model Cities urban renewal program throughout Ohio.
Mr. Brazelton — whose accomplishments as an African-American educator earned him an entry in Akron’s Black History Timeline — died on June 26 in Columbus, where he made his home. He was 85.
Calling Found in Service
Born in Akron on July 23, 1924, he was the son of a Firestone Tire & Rubber millman. He graduated from West High School in 1942 and joined the U.S. Army Reserves.
He was called to active duty with the Quartermaster Corps and served in France, Germany and Okinawa during World War II.
It was in the service that he realized how many young recruits were out of shape and uncoordinated. He used the GI Bill at the University of Akron to pursue a degree in physical education.
He started at Bryan Elementary School in 1952 and taught a few years part time at Crosby, Findley and Allen elementary schools.
”He was in love with children,” said Richard Neal, 75, who is now retired from the University of Akron and did his student teaching under Mr. Brazelton.
”He always wanted them to see things outside of their neighborhoods. So, he was always developing opportunities for them like the drill team. . . . The drill team is the thing that so many of them remember.
”They got a chance to go to the university and perform at halftime of basketball games. They would march like you have never seen kids march. They loved it. But he was teaching valuable lessons all the time, like personal responsibility. ”
Honored for Advocacy
Mr. Brazelton received a Freedoms Foundation Award in 1963. He left the district in 1965 to become the Ohio Department of Education’s supervisor of elementary physical education.
As a state leader, he pushed to get all of Ohio’s ”Fat Freddies” involved in intramural activities, which he felt took a back seat to varsity sports and coaches’ dreams of a state championship.
”A boy quits or he’s cut and the system casts him out,” Mr. Brazelton told the Akron Beacon Journal in 1974. ”We may have wasted a sound mind and body because some boys develop later than others. It’s just one guy’s opinion, but intramural programs are at a low level. Girls’ programs are way above the boys’ simply because they have not been distracted by interscholastic competition.”
Mr. Brazelton retired in 1979, but made some exercise records, Body Jive, which included narration about anatomy and routines set to music.
Students Carry on Legacy
Several years ago, seven of his former students formed the Suitable Men group, which preserves his memory by presenting a scholarship each year in his name to a deserving North High School student.
In 2004, the Suitable Men organized a tribute to their mentor, reuniting Mr. Brazelton’s former students at Bryan Elementary School. Many of those students had lived in the Elizabeth Park public housing complex and had been on the receiving end of his generosity when Mr. Brazelton played Santa.
Mr. Brazelton, then 79, told the Beacon Journal that he was thrilled to see his former students.
”These men are kids I had in third grade, and now they’re 55 and 60 years old,” he said.
He hadn’t forgotten them or the ones he knew collectively as ”Fat Freddy.”
” ‘Fat Freddy’ was just as important to me as a potential Olympic giant,” Brazelton said. ”My obese children had to carry more weight as they tried to run, dodge or stop than the other kids.”
He would choose the smallest boy or girl to lead the class in daily exercises and the ”stout” children to lead runs around the school building.
”And if any of the little jack rabbits in the back wanted to move faster, then I would tell them to lift their knees higher, but no one was allowed to pass my leader,” Mr. Brazelton said.
His lessons have carried the Suitable Men through life, so now they will carry him in death.
The seven (Ronald, Richard ”Ricky” and Stanley Childers; Jerry Ellerson; Dwight Morton; Madu Bakari and Cheo Akili) will be his pallbearers at his service at 11 a.m. Friday, following 10 a.m. calling hours at Wesley Temple AME Zion Church, 104 N. Prospect St., Akron.
John Higgins can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the education blog at http://education.ohio.com/.