"I liked it when the running back and receivers heard footsteps," Fred said. "I liked it when the guards and tackles pulled so you could hit the biggest guy out there."
In the 1968 Bruce High yearbook, listing the place where he would most likely be found, Fred listed the street where Debbie lived. A year behind Fred, she followed him to Fairmont State. They married in May 1973.
Fred also went to work in the public sector in 1975 when he joined the Maryland State Police. He was on call with a tactical assault unit for 11 years, but Sgt. Fred Phelps has spent most of his career on the interstates, inspecting commercial vehicles.
Debbie was named a Maryland Teacher of the Year in 1994 and again in 2000. She is an assistant to the executive director of public schools in Baltimore County, monitoring achievement at 33 schools in the Southwest District.
As they settled in Harford County and started a family, Fred and Debbie determined that the television would never serve as a baby sitter.
"From my and Fred's point of view, we wanted our children to be well-rounded," Debbie said.
"One thing that Debbie and I decided," Fred said, "is that the kids were not going to hang around a mall or get involved in things they shouldn't."
Hilary was born in 1978, Whitney two years later. Michael Fred Phelps II came along in 1985.
The girls tried Brownies, ballet and baseball, as Hilary was registered to play with the boys one spring. Her potential was noticed at the North Harford Swim Club by the family pediatrician. Dr. Charles Wax had taken his own children from that grass roots setting to more demanding year-round clubs.
Competing in that frilly suit purchased in the children's section of a department store, sans goggles or cap, Hilary earned a runner-up trophy at a local meet in 1986.
But she wanted the big one and moved on to a more ambitious club in Bel Air. She then joined the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, and the logistics involved in commuting to Mount Washington symbolized the family's commitment to swimming.
"When we started, my dad would be up at 4 a.m. on the mornings I had 5:30 practice," Hilary said. "As Michael got older, my mom would drive all day Saturday, going from his games to our practices and back."
The family built a custom home in Whiteford and shuttled 10-year-old Hilary to those double sessions, at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center or Loyola High School. They weren't in the house long. The family moved to Towson in 1990 to be closer to the NBAC.
"We built a brand new home on five acres in northern Harford County, but we were never there," Debbie said. "We were all never home at one time in that house. I remember sitting at a desk at Loyola, one girl eating pizza, another doing homework. You hear about ice skaters relocating or kids moving in with coaches, but they were not going to move without us."
"I loved it up there [in Harford County]," Fred said, "but there was too much travel. Moving was better for the kids."
Cutting out the commute was not a cure-all. In 1993, Fred and Debbie separated. A year later, they divorced.