by Michael Sun – The Charlatan
LONDON, Ont. — Rachel Fradgley is back home. The London forward and Western teacher’s college student has had a basketball career and life of highs and lows – as well as self-discovery. It’s taken her from London to Vancouver to back to London. Now, she’s playing for the local Western Mustangs.
“[I] decided to come to back to London because it’s where I’m from,” Fradgley said. “I grew up here. I played basketball here my whole life so I kind of felt it was time to move home.”
Fradgley calls herself a quiet, thoughtful and caring person. Observant as well. “You can tell a lot about a person from what they do,” Fradgley said.
“She just has a very calm sense to her,” Western teammate and fellow teacher’s college student Elizabeth Leblanc said. “She plays hard and she has this competitive edge but it’s just funny to see her in her day-to-day life, she’s relatively calm.”
Her head coach Nate McKibbon called her a stoic and quiet leader – someone who leads by example. “Happy, sad, disappointed, it’s usually the same facial expressions,” McKibbon said. “I think our teammates love that she’s going to be that steady force and regardless of how she’s feeling, she’s going to put out an honest effort.”
Up until last summer, Fradgley was done with basketball. She was helping out coaching the local London Ramblers JUEL club, a club she once played for. She knew the coach, Dave Brown, who coached her for numerous years before and is an assistant with the Mustangs. Through her connection with Brown and talks with McKibbon, she decided to play at Western.
Her basketball career had come full circle.
Fradgley takes her quiet demeanor from her dad. Her dad was also the one that got her into basketball in grade five. “I think my dad kind of just dragged me there because one of his friends said ‘oh, Rachel’s pretty tall, you should put her in basketball’.”
She didn’t love the sport at first – she was into dance more. However, she soon found she loved the team aspect of basketball – something dance didn’t offer. “Just the camaraderie,” she noted. “I feel like a lot of the best memories are of road trips or team parties or something.”
Given her quiet personality, being on a team forced her to open up and get to know people. Around grade 10, her growth in basketball also allowed her to think of playing basketball post-high school as well. As assistant coach told her how good of a player she could be. It pushed her to consider university basketball.
It was a big decision for her to play university basketball. At the time, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to or what program she wanted to enroll in. Then, an injury changed all of that.
In grade 11, Fradgley and her Ramblers teammates were on one of those road trips she loves – a trip to Chicago. She tore her ACL in a tournament game and had to miss an extended period of time recovering. At first, it was a lot of unknowns. “It wasn’t until I got the diagnosis,” Fradgley said. “It was really upsetting.”
Just as her basketball career hopes were taking off, they were temporarily grounded. Fradgley missed a whole year. She received support from Brown and her teammates. She still traveled with them. “I still got that team aspect that I really love about basketball,” she said. “They were also really good with clearly helping me get back into basketball.”
Her time away from the game was important as well. It allowed her to think about what she wanted to do outside of basketball. Fradgley took some psychology classes and settled on it as her degree program. More importantly, it also became her interest.
She was intrigued by the mental side of injury rehab – while she was going through the experience herself. “I was really interested in how athletes mentally come back from an injury,” she noted. “The mental toughness aspect of it.”
The injury recovery experience also helped her discover her own resilience and mental toughness she had in her. It also clarified her desire to play university basketball.
“Having an opportunity taken away really puts it into perspective how much you really value that thing” Fradgley said. “I think that was a really pivotal moment where I was like ‘yes, I for sure want to play university basketball’. I didn’t exactly know where but I wanted to stay in Canada.
She ended up staying in Canada by committing to the Simon Fraser University Clan. Simon Fraser head coach Bruce Langford explained to her the rare opportunity of getting a Canadian education while playing against NCAA competition. She went for it. “Also, there was the perk of living in Vancouver, which I loved,” she added.
Fradgley also played for Canada at the U18 FIBA Americas, given her a chance to travel. “I had a great time, the coaches were awesome, I learned so much,” she said. She also met McKibbon there as he was an assistant coach with Canada.
The transition to university was still a challenge – both on and off the court. Off it, Fradgley was homesick in her first semester. On the court, she had to adjust to the higher level of competition. Due to NCAA rules on practices, there was a lot of conditioning in her first month.
“That was really different for me,” Fradgley said. “I’ve never really done full-on conditioning like that.”
She learned from teammates, including star guard Erin Chambers. “She was really good so I think just being able to play against her was a great opportunity to see how she pushes herself in practice every day, how competitive she is,” Fradgley recalled.
By her second season, she developed through being comfortable with the game and getting used to the pace – through practices and games. “I think just going into a certain situation and just knowing that you’re going to push yourself and you’re going to try your best,” she said. “I think that’s the most you can do and development comes gradually after that.”
Her third season at Simon Fraser would end up being her last full one. By her third and fourth year, classes were getting heavier for her.
“School was really important to me at the time,” she said. Given their basketball schedule, that meant a lot of travel and missed classes. “There was a semester where I was missing five out of the 12, six out of the 12 classes,” she noted.
Fradgley remembers doing well in school right away in her first year and seeing that progression in her schoolwork and learning. That became her focus.
“When you’re so focused on school a lot of the time…I found myself kind of [thinking] like ‘why I am playing basketball? You’re going to be finished with this in a year and it won’t mean anything so why are you putting so much time and effort into it’,” she recalled.
“Whereas with schooling, if you put a lot of time and effort into it, you’re going to get good grades, you’re going to be able to move on to different schooling opportunities,” she added. “It just provides a lot more.”
Fradgley said she found the feedback from her schoolwork extremely motivating. Also, in the upper years of her psychology degree, she started to take more specific psychology courses. “That was kind of when I really loved psychology,” she said. “You get to take classes that you’re very interested in and I found I actually enjoyed studying and I enjoyed what I was doing.”
Once her interest continued to grow, it became easier for her to think about those concepts in everyday life as well. Studying behaviours for example. “Since I’m a quiet person, I’m very interested in watching people’s behaviour,” she said.
By the start of her fourth year, Fradgley got to the point where she was done with basketball. The Clan had a good run the year before to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division 2 tournament but a number of key veterans left afterwards.
One month into her fourth season, she left the team. “I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore,” Fradgley recalled. “I really kind of felt like I was taking away from the team. I think there was a guilt part of it because I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Someone else that could really enjoy basketball could have my spot on the team.”
There were a number of reasons why she left, according to Fradgley. Schooling was one. The turnover of veterans left a different team dynamic from her first couple of years. She also had a busy schedule with a part time job.
Fradgley didn’t want her grades to suffer because of basketball. After their first full two-hour practice that season, she made her decision. “I don’t think I can do this for a whole year,” she thought afterwards. “I just didn’t want to do it and within two hours, I went to my coach’s office and told him that I think I need to focus on school.”
She continued her studies for two more years and graduated with a degree in psychology.
Fradgley didn’t know what she wanted to do next. “I knew that I really liked psychology,” she said. She considered doing more school and in her final year at Simon Fraser, she applied for teacher’s college programs. “I worked a few camps the past couple of years and I knew I really liked working with kids,” she said. “I really liked working with people.”
Like Leblanc, she enjoyed seeing kids learn a concept or skill. “A very proud moment,” she called it.
“It’s all that person’s doing but just to know that you could be a part of their development and a part of their process is a very proud feeling,” she continued.
Fradgley was accepted into Western’s teacher’s college program and went there. She moved back home with her parents and siblings. Varsity basketball wasn’t on her mind though. “I had no intentions of coming back,” she said.
While back home, Fradgley’s mother – who still keeps in touch with Brown – encouraged her to help out coaching with the Ramblers, to give back to the community. While she did that, the news came out that McKibbon became the new head coach at Western.
“A day after that got released or something, [McKibbon] sends me a text message,” Fradgley noted. “He got my number from Dave Brown. He sends me a text message asking if I would consider playing on the basketball team because I got into teacher’s college.”
They met a week later and talked about a lot of things. His basketball philosophies and her priorities among other subjects. “I think when you have two years off, you come to realize what’s important to you in basketball and what’s important to you in school,” she said. “I told him obviously that school is number one.”
They talked about balancing her teacher’s college schedule with her basketball one, about how school would always be the priority.
Fradgley went for a few scrimmages and was a “little rusty” there at first. “I kind of thought, maybe it wasn’t the best idea. I was so out of shape. I haven’t shot for so long,” she said.
“As the summer went on, it was just more fun. I really liked the girls on the team,” she continued. “I kind of thought like, there are no expectations for me so I might as well just play, have some fun and finish off my basketball career on a high note as opposed to the low note that I left on.”
Leblanc said she’s noticed Fradgley’s enjoyment around basketball, how she enjoys the “little stuff”. “It was nice to see like she was kind of in the same boat and she was also still having fun,” Leblanc said.
On the court, Fradgley has become a key member of the Mustangs, who led the OUA with the best regular season record. McKibbon said it was about her rediscovering what she could do.
“We saw her right away and knew what she could do and we know that she’s going to be special,” he noted.
In teacher’s college, the first week was “very overwhelming”, according to Fradgley. There were papers, academic and reflection writing as the semester went on.
There was also practical work as well. “The most enjoyable thing has been my placement for me,” she said. “That’s kind of when you’re like, I really love teaching or you really get to see all the work you’ve put in throughout the semester.”
Last semester, Fradgley did her placement in a kindergarten class. Teacher’s college has allowed her to draw from her experience in psychology and coaching. It’s also allowed her to continue to learn and grow as well.
“I really loved working with the kids and I loved seeing them learn and I think some of the things they say is hilarious,” she noted. “I think that’s why any teacher goes into teaching really, is because they love interacting with the kids. I always found that at the end of the day, I was always learning stuff from the kids as well, like how they think. It’s awesome. I love it.”
Fradgley still has another year of teacher’s college – as well as another year of basketball. One more year of placements and games. One more year of learning and enjoyment as well.
She missed Western’s final regular season game and the playoffs with an injury. The Mustangs edged past the defending OUA and national champion McMaster Marauders to reach the OUA semi-finals, where they fell to the Brock Badgers.
Despite her injury, Fradgley’s still been around the team, with that team aspect that she fell in love with at the start of her basketball journey. She plans to get into teaching afterward her time at Western – especially something with the kindergarten age group she loves.
Fradgley said she first thought about teaching as a profession during her final year at Simon Fraser. “I know I really liked doing it,” she said. “But it wasn’t until my placement here that it really consolidated my passion for teaching.”
Now, being back home at Western has helped make that decision – and her enjoyment of it – a reality.
– Michael Sun