Back in eighth grade, a friend encouraged Kaitlyn Freel to be a football team manager with her at Kesling Middle School so she wouldn't have to do it alone.
The friend, Debra Kingery, moved to Texas, but the interest had been kindled for Freel.
"I loved it," Freel said. "It's something I've enjoyed so much. The thing I like most is I get to help other people, even if it's in a small way."
Those behind-the-scenes efforts didn't go unnoticed as Freel, who has also been active as a volunteer at her church and in Junior Achievement. The four-year manager at La Porte High School was chosen to serve as a manager for the North All-Stars next week in Indianapolis.
"Kaitlyn was unquestionably one of the hardest working managers we've ever had," long-time Slicers offensive line coach Bob James said. "By the time she reached her senior year, we all referred to her as the "team mom" because she ran a very tight ship. The players did not want to cross her."
'Mama Kait' oversaw a group of six students last season, coordinating the daily preparations that can go unnoticed -- setting up equipment, doing attendance, distributing water, making sure the coaches have what they need and, of course, cleaning up.
"This past season, most of all, everybody was open about the appreciation they had for what the managers do," Freel said. "Everybody has their own part and it all fits together really well."
Football had never been that big of a interest for Freel, who would go to an occasional game with her dad, but admitted she didn't understand all that much about it. Her twin brother James started playing in eighth grade, which helped draw her into it. In time, she caught on to the momentum that would build during the course of a practice week, culminating with game night on Friday.
"I'd say it was a tie between Thursday night pre-game and the game Friday night," she said. "The excitement, the adrenaline, passing out uniforms, getting ready for the next day."
Freel found out from James in December that she was being nominated for the all-star team, learning a few weeks later that she and Slicers offensive lineman Brandon Seibert had been selected to represent LP.
"I was super excited," she said. "I feel really grateful. I didn't really see being a manager as a super big job. It really puts a cherry on top of one of the best experiences I had in high school. It's really humbling."
One of four managers for the North team, Freel leaves Sunday for Indianapolis as preparations begin for the July 12 game at North Central High School. While it will be the last time she sports the Slicers apparel on the sidelines, it won't be the final game as a manager for Freel, who will move on to do the same at Manchester.
"My junior year, I visited Manchester and talked to a coach," she said. "I mentioned managers but he said he didn't have a lot of experience with it. When coach James asked me what I was doing for college for the application and I told him Manchester, he said he'd get in contact with them."
James happens to know someone on the Manchester staff. His son Taylor is the co-defensive coordinator there and recently took on equipment coach duties there, meaning will be in charge of the managers.
"I'm definitely excited about continuing on, seeing the similarities and differences between the high school and collegiate level," Freel said.
A 3.75 student, Freel will major in elementary education with a career in teaching in her future.
"I'm extremely proud of her accomplishments," James said. "She has represented herself, her family, our team, our school and our community with the utmost class. We are certainly going to miss her."