Fraley’s coaching career comes full circle at Powell County
BY MIKE FIELDS
STANTON – A large black-and-white photograph hangs in Powell County’s gym, forever preserving the Pirates in all their glory, moments after they won the 14th Region basketball title for the first time in 1974.
Several players have arms raised in triumph, fingers jabbing No. 1 into the air. A few players look sweaty and exhausted, but delighted. The cheerleaders, sitting in front, are all smiles. The championship trophy is at the feet of the young head coach, who is glancing off to the side with a bemused look, as if he can’t quite grasp what his team has just accomplished that night at Breathitt County.
More than four decades later, Dave Fraley, the head coach in the photo, still gets excited when he talks about that 1974 team, led by Steven Kisner and James Goodwin, what the region title meant to the people of Powell County, and what it meant to him as he embarked on a coaching career that has included 675 victories and a state championship.
In fact, you could say the “spirit” of 1974 brought Fraley out of retirement and back to coaching at Powell County this season. “It’s an amazing thing,” he said. “The way I’ve been welcomed back, it’s like my ghost has lived here since I left 40 years ago.”
Fraley first arrived in Stanton in 1966. The Johnson County (Muddy Branch) native was fresh out of Eastern Kentucky University and ready to start his student teaching. “I came here to do 10 weeks and wound up staying 10 years,” he said.
Oddly enough, Fraley never intended to be a basketball coach. “Never even thought about it,” he said flatly.
But on his first day at Powell County, the principal showed Fraley the roll book for the phys-ed classes he was going to teach, “and as he went out the door he said, ‘By the way, you’re the 8th-grade basketball coach.’ I told him I didn’t know anything about coaching. He said, ‘You’ll fit in just fine here.'”
Fraley, who had played for Wendell Wallen at Meade Memorial, proved to be a quick study on the sidelines. His 8th-grade team went 10-4. The next year he joined the high school staff under new coach Bob Hoggard. Powell County also had a new principal — Fairce O. Woods, who had just retired as a highly successful coach at Breathitt County.
Three years later, when Hoggard left for Christian County, Fraley became coach of the Pirates.
Woods, who had led Breathitt County to the Sweet Sixteen semifinals three times, still had basketball in his blood and wasn’t shy about sharing his coaching philosophies with Fraley.
“For one thing, Fairce thought if you played zone they should break your back and place you right in the middle of hell — those were his words,” Fraley said with a laugh.
Woods also needled Fraley by telling him there were two groups of coaches: those that had made the state tournament, and those that hadn’t.
“I got that monkey off my back in ’74,” Fraley said.
Fraley left for Pulaski County after the ’77 season, and it was with the Maroons that he accomplished the ultimate in Kentucky high school hoops.
Fraley’s 1986 Pulaski County team, led by future UK standout Reggie Hanson, won the Sweet Sixteen championship. What made it even more special for Fraley was that his son Shannon hit a driving layup with :10 left to beat Pleasure Ridge Park 47-45 in the title game.
Fraley confessed that he never entertained the possibility that his ’86 team could win the state tournament until after they got by Clay County in the first round.
Pulaski County had beaten Bobby Keith’s Tigers earlier in the season on a last-second shot by Shannon Fraley. After the Maroons won the rematch in Rupp Arena, Fraley remembered Keith telling him, “‘Dave, if you get them to play like that three more times, you can win this thing.’ As I walked on by, that was the first time I thought we could do it.”
Pulaski County clipped Clark County 61-60 in the quarterfinals and Owensboro 70-68 in overtime in the semifinals before taking down PRP in the finals.
“We had to face (Clark County coach) Guy Strong, (Owensboro coach) Randy Embry and (PRP coach) Dale Mabrey,” Fraley said. “You’re not supposed to win it with those three guys in front of you.”
Pulaski County won four region titles under Fraley before he retired after the 1995 season. He stayed away from the game for six years before he returned to the Pulaski County sidelines. He coached 4 1/2 more seasons before giving it up again.
Fraley might have thought he was done with basketball, but he wasn’t. Three years later he signed on at Knott County Central and led the Patriots to the 14th Region title.
It was a one-and-done deal for Fraley at Knott Central. Once again he retired, and he and his wife Janice spent the next six winters in Port Orange, Fla., near Daytona Beach, far away from Kentucky high school basketball.
Then Powell County called. The Pirates were looking for a coach. Would Fraley be interested? He scoffed at the idea at first, but the more he thought about it the more it appealed to him. He finally relented, and at 74, he’s back in basketball.
“What people don’t realize about me is, this is just my (32nd) year of coaching,” he said. “I’ve retired three different times (for a total of 15 years), so maybe that’s why I’m rested and feel good about it.”
Fraley can’t explain what it is about the game that keeps luring him back.
“I think most of us coaches have a defective gene,” he said. “We can’t keep from doing it. It’s like being addicted to some undesirable drug.
“For me, I guess I never got over the itch. Part of it is the competition. I like the games better than practice. I like the relationships with the kids. And there’s always an outside chance I’m helping grow some good humans.”
Powell County, which had four consecutive losing seasons before Fraley’s return, is 11-4 going into Tuesday night’s game at region favorite Perry County Central.
Fraley still keeps close tabs on Pulaski County, for good reason. His son John is in his first year as the Maroons’ coach, and his grandson Colton (Shannon’s son) is their point guard.
John, who at 37 is half his dad’s age, isn’t surprised his dad is still coaching.
“He’s got it in his blood, and he’s still got so much to offer. And he probably has as much or more energy than I do. He’s doesn’t act like he’s 74. We’ve got a little farm down here (in Somerset) and he gets out there and works. He still plays golf all the time, and he still travels a lot. He’s more like a 40- or 50-year-old.
“It’s really neat he got the chance to go back to Powell County. “That’s where he started, so he’s come full circle.”
Dave Fraley doesn’t know how long he’ll coach the Pirates: “Here’s the bottom line. As long as I’m effective and have the energy and can put in the time, I’ll do it.”
Fraley said he also thinks a lot about Bobby Keith, whom he visited several times in the hospital last fall before the Clay County coaching legend passed away.
“In his last days we sat around and talked about basketball and about life. And I know had Bobby been healthy, no matter his age, he would’ve kept coaching.
“So if I’m healthy enough, and if I get the opportunity to go in a gym and coach a sport I love and work with kids, that’s a pretty special deal, and I’m going to do it as long as I can.”
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