Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 29, 2014

Stepping away

Raban resigns at Graham

By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD, Va. — For Tracy Raban, basketball is a team game.

When the individual became more important in the eyes of some outside influences, Raban made the difficult decision to step away from the game.

“I have always been about team, my philosophy is based around team, not individual and I feel like the team concept has been lost here and it has geared toward individuality,” Raban said. “I feel like in my eight years this was the first year that not necessarily from players, but from the parents that I didn’t get the respect I felt like I had deserved.”

Raban led Graham to a 127-75 record over the last eight years, including the G-Girls’ first state tournament appearances since winning it all in 1921. She had her resignation officially accepted in late March, just days before she was recognized with the Pocahontas Coal Association/Bluefield Daily Telegraph Coach of the Year award.

“I want the community, those people that followed us, to know that I didn’t quit on you guys,” Raban said. “There is a reason why I stepped down.”

It wasn’t an easy decision for the 32-year-old Raban, a former standout player at Mercer Christian and Glenville State, who took the G-Girls to seven regional semifinal appearances, two regional finals and state quarterfinal games in 2009 and 2010.

“This was hard, I cried, it was hard, it took a lot of thought,” said Raban, who informed Graham principal John O’Neal about her decision in early March. “When I met with him there were some tears shed because I feel overall, I think I had more Graham pride than a lot of these girls had.”

Coaching runs in the blood for Raban. Her father, Bobby Wyatt, is currently the football coach at PikeView, and her brother, Josh, is the baseball coach for the Panthers.

Raban graduated from Glenville State in 2005, assisted the late-Bill Mitchell for a year at Tazewell, and had been running the program at Graham since 2006.  

“I took it upon a challenge and I like challenges, this past year was a challenge I didn’t like,” Raban said. “Again it falls back to when I started here I had the support of my kids’ parents, the players wanted somebody to come in here that was young and intense and a competitor, I had no problems.”

That began to change this season.

“We fought adversity and it was all year long,” Raban said. “It wasn’t necessarily injuries, it was a lot of drama, fighting being a team, not very many people knew it because I am a competitor and I just couldn’t fight it any longer.”

The G-Girls posted a 14-8 record with three freshmen and a sophomore in the starting lineup. Graham went undefeated in the Mountain Empire District, but lost in the Southern Empire Conference semifinals to Grayson County.

Yet, it wasn’t a fun season. Not even close.

“In doing everything I have done here at Graham in turning the program around that I don’t feel like I was respected,” Raban said. “I am not necessarily bragging about myself, but for who I am and what I have done in my whole career of basketball from playing and to coaching that I just felt like I was not respected and given the respect I needed to be given   with this very young talented group of kids.

“I just feel like the team concept was lost and the lack of respect was there. Therefore, with that given and with them all being young and going to be having the same group over the next couple of years, it was not a very enjoyable year, very stressful.

“With that being said, I said it is time for me to go home and be a team player at home.”

Raban and her husband, Dana, have a 4-year-old daughter, Peyton, who was  now old enough to attend practice, serve as a water girl and just enjoy  being around the G-Girls. Just don’t believe the old cliché’, that her decision was made to spend more time with her family.

“I am not saying I don’t want to spend time with my daughter, but if that was the case then I wouldn’t have come back four years ago when I had her...,” Raban said. “I didn’t quit because I am done coaching.

“I didn’t quit because I wanted to be home with my family, everything I went through here the last couple of years made me want to be home with my family.”

Graham athletic director and boys basketball coach Glynn Carlock said the school will definitely miss having Raban on the sidelines in the future. The job is now available, and an active search has begun for Raban’s successor.

“She has done a fantastic job with them. She was a terrific player and that has absolutely turned itself over now and she has been a terrific coach as well,” Carlock said. “Losing her is a tough situation, but it is also something that we understand the circumstances...

“There is a lot of pressures in coaching as a whole, that is something that everybody in this business have to deal with. Tracy has done a good job of dealing with the pressures...She has been a part of our family at GHS and she has been an integral part in making this girls program a winning program.”

Raban does feel like Graham girls basketball will continue to thrive in the future, at least if the players stay together and play as a team. Despite all the distractions, the G-Girls still had a successful campaign this season.

“I really was surprised, but at the same time I was disappointed because I knew the talent that we had,” Raban said. “I felt like we should have been playing in that conference championship game playing in the state quarterfinals.

“It is hard to step away because I know it is a very talented group of kids there, give them another year or two, if they can stay together, they could do something if they would play as a team.”

It was that team concept that Raban felt was missing this season. There were many distractions, but chief among them were AAU coaches, who have a habit of trying to convince players to work on what they want, and not what might be good for their high school teams, such as scoring points instead of focusing on defense, which was so important to Raban.

There was also a lack of chemistry, and Raban having to deal with numerous personalities, all pulling in opposite directions to achieve their agendas.

“I think high school basketball is eventually, if it has not already started, going to be a stepping stone, a step along the journey,” Raban said. “It is something where ‘you are supposed to play high school basketball so I am going to play it’ but AAU is going to take over.

“I have a couple of kids, I am about number five down their coaching list.”

Still, despite the frustrations of the past season, Raban isn’t ready to step away from the game. She could be back on the sidelines or perhaps serve as a referee, but will take a year away from the game.

“The big thing for me is that people know why, I didn’t quit, I stepped down,” Raban said. “Quitting and stepping down, some people may look at it as the same thing, but I am not a quitter and I don’t think I am done coaching.

“I just felt like it was time to step away before I did lose the love of coaching because it was getting to that point.”

Raban isn’t leaving Graham. She will continue working as a physical education teacher at Graham Middle School, having been supported by the administration during her eight years as a coach for the G-Girls.

“The reason it has gotten to where it got so long is they showed support, they wanted me, they didn’t want me to leave so I want people to know it is not anything that Graham did or the administration and it is not because I am going home to be with my family,” Raban said. “If the right opportunity opposes itself, then I could see myself coaching one day.”

Raban never expected to be as dedicated to Graham as she has become. After all, her father coached at Pocahontas and Tazewell, both of which were rivals of the G-Girls.

Getting used to being part of Graham took time for Raban, but definitely took hold. Unfortunately, she isn’t sure everyone else feels the same.

“It was still hard when I first got started to bleed cardinal and gold, but I tell you what, I bleed cardinal and gold now and that is why it is hard to step down,” Raban said. “I feel one of the biggest problems now is I have more pride and heart than some of these kids on this team and that is hard to say.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com