At the entrance to the University of Texas Longhorns locker room at Texas Memorial Stadium, a plaque hangs on the wall emblazoned with the name and likeness of a young man from Wheat Ridge.
“Dedicated to the memory of Freddie Steinmark,” it reads. “The indelible memory of his indomitable spirit will ever provide an inspiration to those who play a game or live a life.”
If you’re familiar with Colorado’s high school sports lore, you’ve probably heard of Freddie Steinmark. Though smaller than your average player—5-foot-10 and 166 pounds by the most generous estimates—Steinmark become one of the standout members of the state champion Wheat Ridge Farmers football team in the mid-1960s and went on to an illustrious college career as a safety at the University of Texas. Just days after the Longhorns defeated the University of Arkansas in the 1969 national championship during his junior year, Steinmark was diagnosed with bone cancer that forced the amputation of his leg. After a fight that garnered national attention and even inspired the U.S. Congress to write the National Cancer Act of 1971, Steinmark died in 1971 at 22 years old.
This year, Freddie’s story is going national again, thanks to a new film about his life, My All American. The movie premiered in Denver last month and hits theaters nationwide next week. Based on Jim Dent’s 2011 book Courage Beyond the Game: The Freddie Steinmark Story, the film was written and directed by Angelo Pizzo, the screenwriter behind such legendary sports movies as Rudy and Hoosiers.
My All American, starring Finn Wittrock as Freddie and Aaron Eckhart as his legendary UT coach Darrell Royal, is a tearjerker no matter its connection to Colorado and the Longhorns. But the local tale makes it even more special here in the Centennial State—and especially in Wheat Ridge.
“We’re excited that everybody’s going to get to know his story,” says Wheat Ridge High School principal Griff Wirth. “And it’s nice that Wheat Ridge will be a part of the backstory. But Freddie’s story is just one that needs to be told.”
At WRHS, Freddie has long been an important part of campus life. A symposium for student athletes at the start of each school year focuses on his leadership lessons, and the athletic department hallway, Steinmark Hall, bears a bust of the famous alum and tributes to the five WRHS grads who’ve earned the top award in Colorado High School sports, known as—you guessed it—the Steinmark Award.
This school year, with the release of the film and another book on Steinmark (fellow WRHS alum Bower Yousse’s Freddie Steinmark: Faith, Family, Football, released in September), the school and the community have been honoring their native son more than ever.
All the Farmers’ athletic teams have Steinmark’s high school number, 43, emblazoned on their uniforms this year, and the school has launched a hashtag, #BeLikeFreddie, to encourage students to pursue high standards of character and perseverance. The City of Wheat Ridge has also become involved, declaring this Friday, November 6, as “Freddie Steinmark Remembrance Day.”
“Freddie impacted the world more in 22 years than most of us do in our whole life,” Wirth says. As the school tells it students: “He wasn’t just a teammate on the field—he was a teammate in school and in life.”
Freddie Steinmark Remembrance Day takes place on Friday, November 6, at Wheat Ridge High School, 9505 W. 32nd Ave. My All American opens in theaters Friday, November 13.