A Lion until the end: Fraley retires after 28 seasons as Boyd girls basketball coach

Mar. 27—Legendary coach John "Hop" Brown set the bar high for future generations.

Boyd County girls basketball coach Pete Fraley followed the same path and leaves the same indelible mark after he announced his retirement on Sunday after 28 seasons on the Lions' sideline.

"The sport has come a long way," Fraley said. "You might have had one or two girls from the region go play college ball. Now, you see the talent that comes out of the 16th Region. It's unbelievable. We've had three Miss Basketballs. (Russell's) Shaelyn Steele could have easily won it this year."

"We had our end-of-season banquet on Sunday," he added, "and we sat around and watched (former Boyd County guard) Savannah Wheeler play LSU in the NCAA Tournament. When I first started, you could hardly find a women's game on TV. The game has got better each and every year and that's attributed to our coaches and the kids."

Fraley closes out a storied career as the 16th Region's all-time wins leader. Boyd County reached 15 region finals under Fraley's leadership. He ends with 560 career wins and six 16th Region titles.

Fraley said he has been contemplating retirement for the last two seasons and felt like it was the right time to step away. He will remain Boyd County's athletic director, but the schedule will be lighter next winter.

"A couple of years ago, I considered it," Fraley said. "With some of this year's senior class, it felt like a good time to go out. When I started the year, I was 90% sure. It's a lot of time. If it was just X's and O's, I would probably do it until I was physically unable. I really enjoy that part of it and being part of a team. There's just so much other stuff that goes on. ... It's time-consuming. I don't have many years to go in this job as an athletic director. I wanted to try that out without another job in coaching."

Fraley wore the Lions jersey and played on Roger Zornes's first region title team in 1984. He later joined his coaching staff along with future Ashland girls coach Bill Bradley. Fraley's basketball story spans four decades and he wouldn't change a second of it because it all unfolded at Boyd County.

"It's the only place I wanted to be," Fraley said. "I've never looked or gone out and actively recruited another job. I felt like I had the best job around. Roger was the best boys coach ever in the 16th Region, one of the best in the state. When you look at all the people on staff that I was able to learn from with coach Phil Pratt, coach Bobby Sparks, coach Bill Bradley and coach Brock Walter. Those guys were very influential on my career and I tried to pull certain things from each one of them. When we were in our heyday, you would be hard-pressed to find a better staff anywhere in the state."

Fraley made the move to girls basketball before the start of the 1996-97 season. He tried to adapt a coaching style to fit the game at the time, but it didn't start well. He lost his first 11 games before getting a key piece of advice that changed the trajectory of his new program.

"I had just come off coaching in the middle school program for seven seasons under coach Zornes," Fraley said. "I had just come off a 20-0 season. The girls job came open and the principal at the time said we need a coach, why don't you do it? I said sure I'll try it. We started 0-11. I was still trying to figure out how to coach girls."

"I will never forget talking to coach Pratt," he continued, "and he said, 'Just coach basketball. Don't coach girls. Everything will be alright.' I started coaching them the way I coached my boys team prior and used some of the same philosophies and defensive principles. From there it took off and we made it to the region semifinals my first year. East Carter beat us in that game. We had some tough times there, but we made it through."

Former East Carter coach Hager Easterling still recalls that postseason game with fond memories. Easterling remains third on the 16th Region wins list after starting the same year as Fraley.

He shared the same up-tempo, full-court pressure game plan. It shook up the girls game and led to many physical contests between the two teams.

"We started the same year, so it kind of linked us from the beginning," Easterling said. " I still remember the first time we played each other. It was the same style of play that I brought to my girls teams. We played at the old Boyd County gym. There is no animosity about it. It was hard-nosed, tough, physical play. After that game, Pete said, 'We knocked you down then helped you up. You knocked us down and you helped us back up.'"

Easterling and Fraley hooked up in a classic at the 2017 16th Region championship game. Both coaches feel it was the greatest postseason game in history. The two teams combined for 21 3-pointers on 34 attempts in the shootout. The Raiders still hold the region record for 3s in a single game after hitting 11 that night. The win started a string of three straight region wins for the Lions.

"Those two games—the region semifinal my first year and the 2017 region final against East Carter—are two games that stick out," Fraley said. "Hager and I butted heads a lot but I always enjoyed going up against him because you knew you had to be on top of your game."

Bradley has fond recollections of coaching with Fraley and coaching against him. The pair locked horns over 80 times and had several dazzling district battles. The two coaches only met five times at the region tournament, where Fraley has a 3-2 edge.

"When you think about rivals, it was Hop that set the bar high for us," Bradley said. "Part of the reason was because of Hager and East Carter. Pete has kept that bar high for 20-plus years. I'm hoping that we all had something to do with that, keeping that bar high. ... We won some games. We both won championships and both played in the Final Four. It's what made it fun, especially having coached with Pete. I always loved coaching against him."

Easterling said the respected rivalries and the change in physicality made the game grow and become more popular. It brought more people to the gym and brought more talented coaches to girls basketball.

"It was a fierce rivalry that we had," Easterling said. "When the game started, we wanted to kill each other. When it was over, we always respected each other and respected the way we did things. Both of us care about the kids. The most cherished thing is that we both got to coach our daughters. It's the relationships that you develop. Winning is great but it's the relationships that are truly lasting."

Fraley's daughter, Logan, became one the top scorers and 3-point shooters in Lions history. She followed in her father's footsteps and joined his coaching staff.

"It's been something that I will cherish forever.," Pete Fraley said. "You are not supposed to have favorites but it's hard not to with my daughter here. I have been fortunate to coach other great players too. I love them all. I hope I have good relationships with all my former players. I tried to treat them like they were my own kids."

The coaching tree in the 16th Region is important to Fraley and the game will continue to branch out after he's left.

"We have some of the best coaches, boys and girls, in the 16th Region," Fraley said. "I always give credit to Hop Brown. He elevated girls basketball and in my mind, he is the best girls coach ever in the 16th Region. The things he did at West Carter go far beyond winning a state championship. When I started out, he and I weren't real good friends. I was young and didn't give him the respect that he deserved. As time went on, we became close friends. I soon realized I could learn a ton from him. I still have a great relationship with the Brown family.

"The 16th Region is blessed to have so many good coaches as we do."

Bradley had the same initial hesitancy going from boys to girls basketball. He had coached the Boyd County softball team and decided to take the Ashland job after Fraley's encouragement. It's paid dividends ever since.

"During our time, our region has had a lot of success," Bradley said. "You take away the Lexington and Louisville regions and our region is right up there. We have a state championship. Rose Hill went to the finals and three teams went to the Final Four. Pete, Hager and I hate to lose. We always wanted girls basketball to be taken as seriously as the boys. Pete was always one of the leaders in doing that."

Fraley said he will miss the relationships with the kids and his fellow coaches. He expects the competitiveness to still be flowing through him next season, but he knows that the sport is in good hands.

"One of the main reasons I love coaching is I love to compete," Fraley said. "It allows me to be part of a team. I will miss the camaraderie with the players and the coaches. I've had great coaches throughout the years. Dan Rowsey has been one of my best friends. I will miss going to the gym with him. My nephew was on my staff. Teresa Dempsey was with me from the get-go. I could name so many great coaches that have been with me."

"I would like to thank all the administration for their support over the years," he added. "I think I had five superintendents and six principals in 28 years. I was blessed with great players and coaches along the way. I was just fortunate enough to be the head coach."

(606) 326-2671 —