While cutting her teeth at a local radio station during graduate school at the University of Florida, Allison Hayes Freeze-Shelton was tasked with a big assignment: covering a Florida football practice.
Cassette tape recorder in hand, the aspiring reporter took the field among a sea of journalists, forming a circle around legendary coach Steve Spurrier to ask questions about the Gators and their upcoming season.
Satisfied with their clips, the reporters dispersed, ready to get to work on their packages, when Allison realized her own tape was completely blank. Upon learning what had happened, the other reporters encouraged the rookie to ask for a do-over.
Although certain she was in for a lecture, Allison took her chances, mustered up her courage, tapped the Heisman winner and nationally famous football coach on the shoulder, and boldly asked for another interview.
“He was so nice to me,” Allison says, the memory flushing her cheeks as she recalls the embarrassment. “He could probably tell I was scared to death, and he gave me my shot to ask him. I asked him smart questions I guess. After that I had a really good relationship with them.”
Today, this moxie and positive spirit can be seen on televisions all over the country, as the Niles native takes the sidelines for the Big Ten Network and ABC 57’s Saturday Kickoff.
A LOVE FOR STORYTELLING
Allison has long known that she wanted to be a journalist. After serving as editor-in-chief of the Viking Journal at Niles High School, she set her sights on Michigan State University’s prominent journalism school, hoping to make a career in the newspaper business.
Just before she departed for college, though, her father was reassigned to a job in Florida, meaning her parents would be moving across the country.
“I went down there with [my dad] just to check it out and see what he was going to be doing and what the area they were going to be living in was,” Allison says. “I got down there and was like, ‘I’m moving here!’”
Allison was a cheerleader and played tennis at Polk Community College as she established her residency in Florida, and transferred to the University of Florida. Though her passion had been in print, she toured the school’s telecommunications program.
“It just opened up a whole new world to me,” Allison says. “It was telling stories but being able to utilize the sound and the video and the pictures and putting it together.”
Allison was eventually accepted into the university’s highly competitive telecommunication news program. While studying, Allison worked part-time as a morning editor at WCJB, the CBS affiliate in Gainsville.
“I started volunteering to go out and shoot sports stories and shoot high school games, and then I started putting together stories on my own time and putting it on the news director’s desk.”
Allison persisted until the director finally asked her to start shooting for the station.
“He let me be a fill-in anchor and reporter,” she says. “That’s really where my career started.”
Allison’s relationship with Steve Spurrier continued as she covered his last year at Florida for the TV station. Later on, Allison flagged the coach down on the sidelines of a Washington Redskins game, where Spurrier had advanced his career to coach in the NFL.
“He wasn’t doing any one-on-one interviews — just the press conference — and I was running next to him like, ‘hey coach!’” she says. “He stopped and let us do a one-on-one with him on the field.”
In 2004, Allison returned to her Michiana roots to take a job at Fox 28, where she worked in sports for nine years before taking a position at the Big Ten Network.
Raised as a Michigan fan, Allison’s tendency growing up was to root for anyone opposing Notre Dame, as is common on both sides of the infamous rivalry.
“As I got older and we moved away to Florida, everything I’d see on TV about Notre Dame and South Bend reminded me of home,” Allison says. “I had never been to the Big House in my entire life, but we went to Notre Dame for everything.”
These feelings of “home” helped ease the transition for a Michigan fan consistently covering Notre Dame at Fox 28, feelings that would ultimately re-anchor Allison to the state line and help her passion for sports blossom.
“You really start to meet the coaches and the players and you get to know them,” Allison says. “We have to try and stay as unbiased as possible, but at the same time it’s hard to not make connections and root for those kids to succeed when you’re seeing how much hard work they’re putting in and what they go through.”
One example of this emotional connection to the players she covers came during the 2012 National Championship, in which Notre Dame faced Alabama on Jan. 7, 2013. After Alabama defeated the Fighting Irish 42-14, Allison met with the players in the locker room to get their reactions.
“Theo Riddick was crying so hard that I moved in to physically block other reporters from getting in and his tears were landing on my legs,” Allison says. “That’s the real heartbreak. It represents everything that sports are about. You put your whole life into that. … That disappointment and pain — I’ll never forget that.”
A DREAM COME TRUE
Allison credits her positive personality with her love for sports — and with her success in the industry. In spite of some emotionally trying personal experiences — including the unexpected loss of her first husband and father of her child — athletics have continued to show her the light in the world.
“I really enjoy telling stories and introducing you to someone in a way that you’ve never met them or knew about them,” Allison says.
In addition to athletes, Allison has made many strong connections with coaches through her time in broadcast journalism, one of the most notable being National Championship-winning women’s basketball coach Muffet McGraw, one of Allison’s good friends.
“I was literally bawling on the court when they won the National Championship [in April 2018],” Allison says. “To actually be there and see the women’s team win the championship, and to be her friend. That’s someone I care about and appreciate, not only as a coach but also a friend, and to see her win like they did was unbelievable. That was my first National Championship, too.”
Every Saturday during football season, Allison can be found on ABC57, offering Irish fans a peek beyond the field in Notre Dame athletics — or at Big Ten schools throughout the country, chasing down coaches just as she did Steve Spurrier early in her career.
During less chaotic sporting events such as spring football, gymnastics and softball, Allison’s daughter, Emery, can often be found tagging along with mom. At Notre Dame games, husband Nick Shelton (the mayor of Niles, Michigan), can often be found carrying equipment or helping his wife with social media.
“Honestly it’s a dream job, because I get to do everything that I want to do,” Allison says. “I’m telling five-minute long in-depth features on your favorite players or favorite coaches. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.”
ONE GOOD DEED MICHIANA
Earlier this year, 11-year-old Colton Hubbard walked down the hallway at Brandywine Elementary School, a proud smile on his face as his classmates and teachers chanted his name.
The student, who has battled cancer since he was 7, had his own surprise up his sleeve — in the form of pizza and a dance party, and a bouquet of flowers for his teacher, Cindy Boughton Black, who had taken off work to sit with Colton during a surgery. With the help of local organization One Good Deed Michiana, Colton was able to pull off his surprise as thanks for the support during his difficult time.
“That was one of the neatest things I’ve ever experienced,” says Allison, founder of the organization. “That was just a little boy wanting to give back to the people who had made such a difference to him and his family.
One Good Deed Michiana was born in 2012, after Allison received a number of good deeds of her own during a trying time. That year, Allison’s first husband, Robert Freeze, died in an auto accident on his way home from Chicago Bears training camp.
For a long time after her husband’s death, Allison says she had a hard time letting people in, wanting to keep her grief close and her private life private.
“What I found out was when we stopped trying to shut people out and we allowed them to help us, that’s how we were able to move forward,” Allison says, recalling times when Robert’s co-workers from AEP would visit to bring food or offer to do yardwork. “That’s how we were able to get better. And it helped them, too. That’s how other people needed to work through their grieving process in losing Rob.”
Inspired by the generosity of so many during her family’s difficult time and a longtime passion she shared with Rob to find a way to help others, Allison created One Good Deed Michiana.
“Our motto is ‘helping those who help others, because one good deed can change a life,’” Allison says. “So I started thinking about it and I was like, ‘you know, it would be really good to recognize those people, because they don’t realize what a difference they’re making in someone’s life.’”
For several years now, Allison has helped people like Colton recognize others for their good deeds. Good deed recipients write the organization to nominate people who have helped them, and One Good Deed Michiana selects winners to receive surprises.
“The thing that affects the person the most is I take the nomination letter, and I blow it up, I print it, and I frame it, and then as part of the recognition, we read the letter out loud to them,” Allison says. “Man, I tell you, most of the time there’s not a dry eye, because it’s really moving and meaningful to actually understand or hear how your small thing that you don’t even realize is a big deal is really affecting someone else in their life.”
One Good Deed Michiana also awards multiple students per year with the Robert Freeze Memorial Scholarship, and hosts a number of fundraisers throughout the year. For more information about One Good Deed Michiana, visit the organization’s Facebook page and website at onegooddeedmichiana.org.
It just feels awesome to do good things,” Allison says. “Help us spread the love!”
Photos by Wes Jerdon/Westley Leon Studios/Provided