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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Tournament Classic Honoring a Mansfield Wall of Fame Coach Comes to a Successful End

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The 2021 edition of the Bill Frye Holiday Basketball Tournament Classic came to a successful end last evening on the campus of Mansfield High School. And when the night was over, the Booneville Lady Bearcats won the girls side of the tournament, and the Pocola, OK Indians won the boys bracket. And on hand to present the winners’ trophies was Mansfield Wall of Fame coach, Bill Frye.

Just prior to the girls presentation, Coach Frye enjoyed a special moment in the stands with Mansfield athletic director, John Mackey. Mackey was one of several coaches and athletic directors who were instrumental in having the tournament named after Coach Frye. Mackey, along with Coach Frye’s grandson, Dax, are pictured together below just prior to Frye’s presentation to the girls tournament runner-up and champions trophies.

Mansfield Athletic Director, John Mackey (left), who was one of several coaches and athletic administrators who led the effort to name the Mansfield holiday tournament after Bill Frye, is pictured above with Coach Frye and his grandson, Dax. (Resident Press Photo / Jim Best)

Coach Frye’s wife, Cindy, and other members of his family were on hand to support Coach throughout the evening. And something that struck me was how, after now more than ten years since the inception of the tournament, Coach was taking a well-deserved bow for his many contributions to the Mansfield school district, and to the many students and athletes who were influenced by him.

But Coach Frye is a humble person, and when I spoke with him again yesterday to record his interview for the second part of this story, he focused on the tournament of the present and in the future. When he had the opportunity to speak of his own experiences, he instead chose to give credit to the many coaches and athletic administrators of the present who are working hard to build their programs and to preserve the legacy of the Frye Classic. That is the kind of person that he is. He is quick to give credit to others, and very slow to take any credit himself.

So, in Coach’s second recorded interview, I simply asked him to share with me what the day meant to him. Coach spoke of how hard the coaches at Mansfield are working today, and he shared with me how Mansfield girls basketball coach, Ethan Bowman, had asked him to speak to the Lady Tigers last week before the start of the tournament. Coach continued to say that he told the Lady Tigers about his 1986 state champions team, and that “I think they can win a state championship, too.” He spoke about his team that went 26-0, and to this day, receives notes and calls from his former players.

In fact, one thing that was apparent, is that the Mansfield basketball programs are on an up-swing, and Tigers fans have a lot to be optimistic about with respect to the boys and girls programs. Both Mansfield teams played extremely well in the tournament, and I expect both teams to make a run in post-season that could include berths in the regional tournaments. I expect both teams to continue to improve this year and position themselves to make championship runs in the next school year. Mansfield boys coach Josh Brown, and girls coach Ethan Bowman, are working very hard to build their programs, and you can see their work in every aspect of their programs. From player development, to arena atmosphere, and, to social media presence, the coaches are creating programs that players want to play in and know that they have a chance to compete at very high levels. For Mansfield fans, this is a time to be very excited about their basketball programs, and next year could be a very big year for both the Tigers and Lady Tigers.

So, as the girls tournament final concluded, Coach Frye and representatives from the tournament’s sponsor, Today’s Bank, made their way to mid court for the presentation. As the arena public address announcer read the tribute to Coach Frye, you could see the emotion on Coach’s face as he wiped away the tears. And I have to tell you that I found myself getting a little choked up, as well. I immediately began to reflect that I was privileged to not only be there to photograph and to write his story, but to have also had the opportunity to work alongside him at MHS.

As each player representative walked up to Coach Frye to accept trophies on behalf of their teams, each player smiled and enjoyed their moments with Coach. Then, again, it hit me that not only has Coach influenced so many athletes in the past, on this night, he was also having an effect on the players on the court. Quite a tribute to a man who dedicated his career to coaching and caring for kids. He has always been beloved by his players and others, and last night was no exception.

The 2021 edition of the Frye Classic is now in the history books, and its namesake, Coach Bill Frye, will move on to his other interests that include being a grandfather, hunting, and maintaining a business in lawn service. Coach has never been someone to sit on the porch and watch the world go by during his retirement. In fact, he works very hard to this day, and enjoys being a grandfather more than anything. But make no mistake, he treasures his time in Mansfield, and he and his wife Cindy are Tigers for life.

It has been my privilege to write Coach’s story, and I hope you have enjoyed this thumbnail sketch of a man who is very special. I consider it an honor to have worked alongside him at Mansfield High School, and I will always consider him as a dear friend and colleague. He is one of those coaches that former players always remember and think of as, sometimes, another parent. I worked with him for a few years before his retirement, and he had a positive influence on me. He is genuine, and he is real, as the kids will say. He overcame adversity when some may have collapsed, and because he did so in such a classy way, he has “landed on his feet”, and, is finally, getting the recognition that he has always deserved.

So, Coach Frye, this story is for you.

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Jim Best
Jim Best is a man of many talents. His storied career in Arkansas education led him to a new passion, and hidden gifts in sports journalism.
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