A dozen years ago, there was no basketball season for Donnie Frazier.
No players to coach, film to study or strategies to devise.
Instead of baselines, 3-point lines and free throw lines, there were just white lines as he drove the highways and byways of rural Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
The whoosh of air breaks and droning of a big-rig horn were the sounds he heard that winter instead of a referee’s whistle or sneakers squeaking on the gym floor.
From January to early-May of 2007, Frazier worked for Superior Well Services, driving a truck and helping set up natural gas wells.
He had been laid off by the school system in Pike County, Kentucky, a few months before and unable to find a full-time job in the classroom and on the sidelines, he got his Commercial Driver’s License as a means to put food on the table for his wife, Melissa, and two young daughters, Bailey and Brooklyn.
He climbed up in the cab of a tanker truck, nitrogen truck or iron truck each day and began his shift.
“I had a master’s degree in teaching and knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing,” Frazier said. “It was demanding work, but I had to support my family. … I’ve always been a worker. It’s how I was brought up. Do what you have to do to provide for your family. I got that from my mom.”
He was gone from home as many as four nights a week and the work could be tough – like attaching iron to the well heads and making sure all the pipes and hoses were secure.
There was a scary night in Oliver Springs, Tennessee, when a well blew out.
“It was shooting gas out of the side of the mountain and we had to push a truck off the hill without starting it because they were afraid it might start a flame,” Frazier said. “We went to the hotel and left all our trucks there at about two in the morning … They woke us up at six in the morning and said it had blown up around 4 a.m. when a car drove by and backfired, starting the explosion. Two guys at the bottom were trying to stop traffic both ways but the guy was trying to go to work, saw them on the road, got scared and blew through thinking they wanted something. It burnt up all our trucks and a couple of houses from what I read. We all had to ride home in one van and they brought a company in from Texas to deal with it.”
Frazier received another message when he got home.
“I told Donnie right then and there he would not be going back to the job,” Melissa Frazier said.
So, he started teaching at the Flatwoods Job Corps in Coeburn and eventually found a full-time classroom gig in the Dickenson County, Virginia, school system that fall and got the girls basketball job at Clintwood High School.
Since then, it’s been nothing but success.
Frazier has won two state titles and has the Ridgeview Wolfpack in the VHSL Class 2 state tournament for the third time in the four-year history of the school. They play the Floyd County Buffaloes Friday night in a quarterfinal game at Auburn High School.
Frazier is doing what he loves doing and doesn’t take it for granted.
“Playing for him has been very fun for the past four years,” said Ridgeview senior Nikole Counts. “He motivates me and has always pushed me to be my best. I have become more competitive as I have played for him. His love for the game shows and he is such a good person and good coach to all of us girls.”
Born in McCreary County, Kentucky, and the second of five kids in his family, Donnie Frazier’s parents divorced when he was young and his work ethic was groomed by watching his mom work two jobs.
He was a stud athlete in high school and later played both basketball and baseball at Berea College. He finished with 1,789 career points and played in the NAIA Division II national tournament during his time on the hardwood for the Mountaineers from 1994-98.
He once played a big role in an upset win over NCAA Division I program Eastern Kentucky University.
Frazier also knew that he wanted to coach and after a stint as a graduate assistant at Berea, he spent time at three different school systems in Kentucky over the span of eight years.
After moving to Virginia, he did some substitute teaching at Coeburn High School and was an assistant to Jeff Adkins on the basketball team.
“Donnie was a hard worker,” said Adkins, who now leads the program at John Battle. “He brought a lot of new things to the program and he related to the kids very well. He was a great scout and broke the other teams down very well.”
After his truck driving days, his big break came at Clintwood.
His crowning achievement occurred in 2015 when the Greenwave won the state championship in the school’s final year of existence.
“The last year at Clintwood was special,” Frazier said. “Closing the school with a state championship was a storybook ending for the girls, especially the seniors.”
Ridgeview – born from the consolidation of Clintwood and Haysi – won the state title in its first year of existence in 2016.
“We spent a lot of time together that summer leading into the fall as a team,” Frazier said. “We had really good senior leadership and we were able to pull everyone together for one common goal. Consolidation takes time. This will be the first graduating class that has spent all four years at Ridgeview. Right now, they are 86-24. Pretty good for kids coming from several different schools buying into one common goal.”
The 43-year-old Frazier is frank.
If he doesn’t like the way a referee called something, he’ll say so.
If he doesn’t like the effort his team displayed, he’ll let them know about it.
“I came from an old-school tradition of coaches who never sugar-coated things,” Frazier said. “They valued hard work, discipline, spoke their mind and got straight to the point.”
When he talks, his players listen.
“He is very direct and intense, but when you want to win you have to be,” Counts said. “He wants only the best for us when we play and points out our mistakes to help us learn and improve. When he yells or says something you can’t take it offensive, it is just in the heat of the moment and part of the game.”
His team embodies their coach – tough, tenacious and not intimidated.
“You always have to be prepared for a Donnie Frazier-coached team,” said Wise County Central coach Robin Dotson. “He puts a lot of time into it and I respect him for that. He does a great job and preparing for them is not easy, as he’s rarely predictable in his approach to each game.”
Frazier is fearless and those qualities landed him a spot on national television more than a decade ago as he appeared on “Pros vs. Joes” on Spike TV. In athletic competitions pitting pedestrians against retired pro athletes, Frazier was declared the winner in the 2008 episode.
He attempted to tackle former NFL running back Ricky Williams, sparred with ex-junior lightweight champion Arturo Gatti and played some hoops against NBA legend Charles Oakley.
“The entire experience was fun and it was very humbling,” Frazier said. “There’s a reason those guys are pros.”
Don’t let the gruff demeanor fool you.
Frazier isn’t always a taskmaster.
“Before about every home game Frazier would usually feed us,” Counts said. “We would talk about what food we wanted before the game at practice the day before. At one point, I was super obsessed with pineapple pizza and I remember saying and joking around to get a pizza just for me.
“Well, sure enough the next game day, he brought me an entire pineapple pizza. I remember that because most coaches would never buy one kid a pizza just because they said they liked it. It was very kind of him to go out of his way just to do that. He’s a very caring coach.”
Kayla Mullins, who played on the state title teams at Clintwood and Ridgeview, is now a standout at the University of Pikeville and gives credit to her former mentor.
“He really knows the game of basketball and if it wasn’t for his guidance from a young age, I probably wouldn’t be in the position I am right now as a college athlete,” Mullins said.
Two of the current stars for Ridgeview happen to be Bailey and Brooklyn Frazier.
“It’s tough coaching your daughters,” Donnie Frazier said. “One is hard enough, but having two it’s sometimes difficult and stressful. I’m really harder on them than anyone else. There’s dad, then coach. You have to draw a line.”
Ridgeview will be on the road for Friday’s game and as the bus carrying the Wolfpack makes its way up Interstate 81, Frazier might think back to the time he drove a heavy-duty vehicle.
“Trying to get to some of these places,” Frazier said. “There was a place in Kentucky that the roads were all dirt, so if it was rainy travel was sometimes sketchy. I had a bulldozer push me from behind up the mountain to the well site because the truck wouldn’t make it. Coming down that steep grade was even more fun. If you used the breaks the wrong way you would turn into one big sled. I actually left my door open coming down that mountain, because if I started sliding I was jumping out.”
Those flashbacks will be fleeting for Frazier.
His focus is on Floyd County.
Coaching is his calling.
“We want our program to be successful and that takes a lot of energy and time,” Frazier said. “I think we are on the right track. We just have to keep grinding.”
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