Area Holiday Basketball Tournaments Highlighted by Mansfield’s Bill Frye Classic

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Holiday tournament namesake, Bill Frye, recently visited with Resident Press (Resident Press Photo / Jim Best)

Note to readers: This is the first part of a two-part story on the Bill Frye Holiday Basketball Tournament Classic. The tournament is held each year at Mansfield High School for three days during the last week in December. The second part of this story will publish the night of New Year’s Eve, December 31. Watch for special tournament coverage, as well as part two of Coach Frye’s interview on December 31 in Resident Press.

It’s that time of year again. Santa Clause has fulfilled his promises for yet another year, and all of us have gained ten pounds from the wonderfully delicious holiday foods over the past four weeks. High school basketball has taken a brief break so that players and coaches alike can spend treasured time with their families during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. But in addition to all of the family activities and the sounds of reindeer hooves on our roof tops, another tradition will resume next week around high school sports.

Many schools will play in invitational holiday basketball tournaments for a few days following Christmas Day. The tournaments are a chance to get a few more non-conference games under the teams’ belts before the resumption of conference play in January. And, as I remember all too well, it is a chance to work on conditioning and to work off all of the holiday calories before the schedule resumes for real in January.

Some tournaments are traditional and are played every year. When I think of those, I think of the King Cotton tournament in Pine Bluff that features every year the very best of high school basketball talent, not only in Arkansas, but from around the country. And some have already been played, such as the Fort Smith Northside Tournament of Champions. In that tournament, host school Fort Smith Northside defeated Greenwood for the tournament championship.

But closer to home, there is a River Valley tournament that is held every year by Mansfield High School. The Bill Frye Classic, named after the former Mansfield basketball and baseball coach, is played every year over three days during the last week of December. This year’s tournament will be held December 28-30. Locally, the Paris Eagles boys basketball team will play in the tournament starting December 28. Boys and girls basketball teams from Arkansas and Oklahoma will play in the tournament, and all teams will be guaranteed to play three games. As mentioned before, the tournament is attractive to coaches because it affords their teams a chance to get three non-conference games in to get ready for the resumption of their regular season schedules in January.

But the Mansfield tournament is unique from one special aspect: it’s name sake is still alive! That may sound a little rugged to our readers, but it is something that Bill Frye himself openly jokes about to anyone who brings it up. In fact, in a recent interview, Coach Frye told me the story of a coach in the early days of the tournament that saw him at the tournament and said, “I thought you were dead.” And, if you have ever spent much time around coaches, you know that Coach Frye’s remarks are very much in keeping with the humor that coaches share inside their circles. Bill is certainly no different.

But before I continue, I must, in the spirit of full disclosure to my readers, let everyone know that Bill Frye is a former colleague of mine when I was an administrator in the Mansfield school district, and, I very much consider him a dear friend. So, I think it is important that our readers know this up front, and I think when you read his interview below, you will be as impressed with him and his career as I always have been.

A few weeks ago, Bill sat down with me and my wife, Elaine, at a restaurant in Greenwood to visit with him and to record his interview for this, the first part of a two-part series on the Bill Frye Classic. And although Bill coached most of his career in Mansfield, his career actually started out in Altus.

So, I asked him to start by telling us about his career, and Coach Frye began by saying, “I coached for 38 years. Thirty-eight and a fourth, actually. When I graduated from the College of the Ozarks, I applied for the Altus job. When I applied for the job, Cindy (Bill’s wife), was in the tenth grade at Altus High School.” Bill was hired as the boys basketball coach. “The first year, the gym was condemned. We practiced outside; it was terrible. We never won a game. Then, we got into baseball season, and we were pretty good. That was in 1976-77. The next year at Altus, we had a new gym. But still, we struggled. I worked in the summers at Cargill. I then had a job at Hartford, because someone had quit. I went to Coal Hill (now Johnson County Westside) for a year, and then I applied to Mansfield. Coach Sparks was at Mansfield at the time, and I ran into him at the mall in Fort Smith, and he said, “Hey, I need a coach.” So, I interviewed and got the job at Mansfield in 1980-81 as an assistant football coach.” And from that time on, Coach Frye remained at Mansfield for the rest of his career.

His stint as an assistant football coach, “Kind of worked into basketball. Assistant football coach, 7th grade football coach, and they gave me a junior high boys team. We went 21-4 that year, so then I was given the junior girls. We went 15-5 that season and got beat by Clarksville in the district tournament finals. So then, I got the senior girls, and junior girls. I did junior girls for 18 years and senior girls for twenty some-odd years. We won the state championship our third year.”

In a piece of trivia that Bill shared with us in his interview, he recalled the year, 1990-91, that University of Central Florida and former Auburn University head football coach, Gus Malzhan, applied for the head football coach position at Mansfield High School….and did not get the job. Malzhan was deemed not to have enough experience for the Mansfield job at the time. According to Frye, Malzhan was “fresh out of college” at the time. But as this story goes, life takes unexpected turns and twists, but things always seem to work out they way they were intended.

And such was the case with Bill Frye. Frye amassed 399 victories as a high school girls basketball coach. Toward the end of his coaching career, Frye was reassigned from girls basketball to baseball. And that is where the story of the Bill Frye Holiday Basketball Tournament Classic really begins.

At the time, Mansfield athletic director Floyd Fisher, who is currently the Mansfield Middle School principal, recalled in a conversation that now A.D. John Mackey, and then coach Brent Reeves, were instrumental in having a holiday tournament and naming it after Coach Frye. In fact, as a salute to Frye’s career and contribution to the basketball program at Mansfield, the coaches invited Bill to sit as an honorary coach on the bench for one game so that Frye would win his 400th girls basketball victory of his career. A move that was made as a result of the love and respect Bill’s colleagues have for him and his work as a coach in the district.

The 2005-06 school year was the final year of Frye’s coaching career. “There is a long story behind that.” And again, in full disclosure to our readers, it is not my intent to point fingers, assign blame, or editorialize my opinion as to what happened to end Coach Frye’s coaching career. He speaks of the district with great affection and loyalty to this day, and his wife, Cindy, still works in the district office, serving the students and staff at Mansfield. The Fryes are a class act, and it is not my intention to cast a shadow on any aspect of their careers or tenure in the district.

However, it is significant to consider that regardless of the political environment at that time in both the community and within the district, Coach Frye’s colleagues at that time felt so strongly as to name the tournament after Bill Frye. Quite a compliment to Coach Frye when it may have been easier for those coaches to not to take the risk in doing so. But, again, if you know Bill the way I do, you can certainly understand the respect those coaches have for him, and why they stepped out to make the tournament happen in celebration of Coach Frye’s career.

But his coaching career did come to a close, and as an administrator in the district, including years as the high school principal on the staff that Frye served, I had the honor and pleasure of working with him each day. We became great friends, and remain so to this day. He has influenced many students throughout his career, and each one of them know that he loved them and wanted nothing but the best for each student.

So the 2021 edition of the Bill Frye Classic will begin on December 28. I will be in Mansfield on December 29 & 30 to cover the tournament and the play of the Paris Eagles boys team. But, I am especially looking forward to my second interview with Coach Frye, and, doing a lot of damage with Coach in the tournament’s hospitality room where, every year, there is great food for the coaches and officials in the tournament. Coach Frye will present the winners’ trophies on the final night of the tournament, and Resident Press will be there to bring you photos from the trophy presentation.

Make sure you don’t miss part two of this story as told by Coach Bill Frye. It will be a great way to end 2021 and begin the new year on a very positive and inspirational note.

Thanks again to all of our Resident Press readers! You are what inspire us every day!

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