Crim: With more than five decades of coaching experience to share, Fray still willing to answer call


Mike Fray, left, and Pat Rafferty, longtime friends and basketball coaching counterparts, continue to offer decades of knowledge to teams and younger coaches while also engaging in conversation every Thursday at Sprout's Inn in Quincy. | Don Crim photo

QUINCY — Mike Fray and Pat Rafferty lunch together every Thursday morning at Sprout’s Inn, arriving when the restaurant opens at 10:30.

A corner window booth is set aside if it’s just the two of them, a table if they call ahead to say there will be guests. Tracy, their waitress, has their drinks already on the table when they arrive, with menus laid out for those joining them.

It’s a perk of being regulars.

They always order the special. You can choose from five sandwiches to accompany an array of soups and a selection of tasty homemade pies. With tax it comes to $11.98, plus tip.

And they’re headed for the door by 11:15, dessert in hand.

“Mike says he wants to be out of there before all the old people arrive,” Rafferty quipped.

The irony in wanting to beat the rush of the “elderly” lunch crowd is that Rafferty is 73 and Fray will turn 80 in October, although both wear their age well.

They have been friends for more than 40 years, having spent much of that time either coaching against or alongside each other, most notably on the basketball court. The weekly lunch is one way to stay connected.

“We never talk about the times we butted heads,” Fray said.

Rafferty is still coaching, serving as an assistant to John Wood Community College men’s basketball coach Brad Hoyt. Fray planned to be the junior varsity boys coach at Western High School in Barry this year until he was forced to call an audible.

His son-in-law, Andy Tappe, was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer last July. Andy and Michaela, Fray’s daughter, lived in an apartment in St. Louis for several months while he was undergoing treatment.

“They needed to be within 30 minutes of the hospital, so I took care of their house and their animals,” Fray said. “It’s been a long winter, but a rewarding winter. Andy and Michaela came home at Christmas. He still goes to St. Louis twice a month for checkups, but he’s doing well and they’re doing well.”

Still, for one of the few times since landing his first head coaching job in 1966 at tiny Cairo (Mo.) High School, a few miles up the road from his hometown of Moberly, Fray didn’t have practices to conduct, games to play, players to mold.

“It’s been difficult, but sometimes you can’t do what you want to do,” he said. “There wasn’t any way I could go down to help. I didn’t go to a game all winter. I watched a half-dozen of their games on Jack Hull’s Central Illinois Sports.

“I hope next school year somebody will call.”

Someone likely will, and Fray will answer. His retirement plan doesn’t include actually retiring. He still enjoys passing along the lessons he learned while playing for the legendary Cotton Fitzsimmons at Moberly Junior College in the 1960s.

“I’ve always had three rules. No. 1, be a good person. Two, be the best student you can be. And three, let basketball take care of itself,” he said. “I enjoy teaching kids how to play the game the right way, how to love the game. I want to help kids be good high school players or just good people.

“That’s what I’ve always been about. Those were the things I learned from Cotton in the ‘60s, and they’re just as important now as they were then.”

Fray applied those principles during his 32 seasons coaching varsity basketball at eight high schools — Barry, Augusta Southeastern and Herscher in Illinois, and Cairo, Highland, School of the Osage, South Shelby and Knox County in Missouri.

His teams, both boys and girls, won more than 600 games combined, leading to his induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1997.

Fray enjoyed some of his greatest successes at Southeastern. He guided the Suns to a fourth-place finish in the Class A boys state tournament in 1992 and the girls team to a second-place finish a decade later. He also helped Southeastern place third in the 1981 Class A state volleyball tournament for a rare coaching trifecta.

Fray also coached softball and baseball and was a basketball, baseball and softball official. He had stints as an assistant men’s basketball coach at Culver-Stockton College, and as a women’s basketball assistant and volleyball coach at JWCC — the latter two after he said he was retiring as an educator in 2002.

Since 2009, when he wasn’t helping Rafferty with varsity basketball teams at Payson Seymour or Western, he has mainly worked on the junior high level in a variety of sports at Western, where he also was as a part-time physical education teacher.

“Southeastern will always be home because (sons) Mark and Donnie played there and Michaela played there,” said Fray, who spent seven years beginning in 1975 as the boys basketball coach before returning in 1988 as the school’s principal.

Three times after returning as an administrator, coaching vacancies at the school ushered him back to the bench, where he’s always felt the most comfortable.

“I had a great job as principal at Southeastern,” he said. “We had a great staff and great kids. It was a place where you really wanted to go to school and do things. It enabled me to be a coach, too.

“When you’re at a small school, you know all the kids and get to interact with them in the classroom, in the hallways. You have a lot more influence on kids, whether they’re athletes or come-to-school kids, and you hope you can make a difference.”

Other than the Covid year, the last time Fray was inactive was when he was sidelined for three months after having open-heart surgery on his birthday in October 2016.

“I had never been in a hospital before except to see people,” Fray said. “When they’re telling me what they’re going to do, I asked Dr. (John) Arnold, ‘Are you a sports person?’ He’s from Cleveland, so he said he liked the Cleveland Browns. That was good enough for me.”

Fray still exchanges Christmas cards and frequent phone calls with fellow coaches and former players, even those he coached at Cairo more than five decades ago. In fact, he plans to have lunch with one of those Cairo players when he travels to Columbia, Mo., for an upcoming eye doctor’s appointment.

“Once you play for me, you’re one of mine,” he said. “I try to keep track of my guys the best I can.”

And he hopes to continue adding names to that roster.

“If I’m still kicking, somebody calls and it’s the right situation, I would like to be on somebody’s bench next year,” he said. “I don’t want to be a head coach anymore. I don’t want the responsibility. I’d like to help somebody be a good coach.

“Maybe nobody will want somebody 80 years old on their bench. And if they don’t, that’s OK, too. I’ve had a great, great career. I probably wouldn’t do anything different. I’m happy with what God’s allowed me to do over a lifetime.”

If you want proof, stop by Sprout’s some Thursday morning, and pull up a chair for lunch. It could be the best 45 minutes of your week.

Miss Clipping Out Stories to Save for Later?

Click the Purchase Story button below to order a print of this story. We will print it for you on matte photo paper to keep forever.

Related Articles