A Beckley attorney inspires young people in the court and on the baseball field.
By Terry L. Hapney Jr. from The West Virginia Lawyer
While his work in court and his legal practice have served as inspiration to high school students, Matt Fragile’s work as an award-winning umpire has impacted many young lives during his 13 years officiating baseball. Fragile, 41, was selected as the National Federation of High School Sports 2016 Baseball Official of the Year. He can be called to officiate anywhere in the state of West Virginia- where he is licensed. But generally, during the regular season, Fragile focuses on officiating games in Raleigh County and the surrounding counties in southern West Virginia.
Fragile’s passion for America’s pastime runs deep.
“I played [baseball] from 8 years old up through high school,” Fragile said. “Two weeks before baseball season was supposed to start in my senior year I blew out my knee, so I never got to complete my high-school career.” His long-time love of the sport stems from his grandfather – Pat Fragile – who officiated in the minor leagues early on in Matt’s father’s (Pat C. Fragile) life. After Matt’s grandfather’s officiating career, the eldest Fragile became a scout for some professional teams.
“The love of the sport – the love of baseball in my family – goes back quite a way,” Fragile said. “My father and I officiated together for approximately 10 years before he retired. He’s a former recipient of the award. My family history goes back pretty far in baseball. It’s a deep passion of mine.” Fragile practices law with his father in a general litigation practice – Fragile Law Firm. The father-son duo handles cases from simple car wrecks up to natural gas explosions.
“We also attempt to help citizens in southern West Virginia who are going through tough situation, such as divorce and contractual matters,” he said. Fragile stated the most rewarding aspect in life – and it covers both officiating and his practice – is that he likes to help people.
“The most rewarding thing is to have someone come through my door and I’m able to help them in any fashion – to assist them with my education and experience through a trying time,” Fragile said. “I got into officiating for the sole purpose of trying to be a positive role model and help young people in the community, much the same way I was helped when I grew up here in Beckley.” Fragile has officiated approximately 25 games a year for 13 years. In each baseball game, there are approximately 22 to 25 people, meaning he has touched a lot of lives with his positive influence.
“I hope I’ve helped at least 10 percent,” he said. “If I’ve reached that, I’m doing great. I’ve come in contact with quite a few.” When Fragile played ball, he was a catcher. His passion for the game was evident each time he took to the field. One of the things he likes to do now is officiate behind the plate and establish a rapport with the catchers.
“We generally discuss career options and what they intend to do in life,” he said. “In between pitches I tend to offer some friendly advice to help guide them. Generally, that’s received with warmth and appreciation.” Another of Fragile’s activities in giving back to the community that gave so much to him while growing up is helping the local school put on a mock trial at St. Francis de Sales Middle School. He also coaches basketball as the school. A former player on Fragile’s basketball team, one of the first student-athletes in the mock trial, chatted with Fragile a couple of weeks ago. The young man is entering his senior year in high school.
“He was proud to tell me he’d been accepted to NYU, and he intends to take his great education from NYU and proceed with a career in law,” Fragile said. “He attributed that to the exposure I gave him in our mock trials. That means a lot to me.” However, Fragile does not do what he does in the legal profession or on the baseball field for acknowledgment.
“I’m a little humbled by even having this conversation,” he said. “I don’t do things for recognition. I hope I’m positive, in general, with everyone I come across.”
A former mayor of Beckley used to attend high school games. The gentleman gave Fragile the “greatest compliment.”
“He came up after a game and said, ‘Every time I come to the ball field and I see you here, it looks like you’re just having the greatest time of your life.’ I enjoy working hard, giving them a professional game, and doing it in a positive manner,” Fragile said. “I know I took notice when I was a kid of the good umpires. It led me to do what I do. I certainly hope time will show that more young people get into officiating and law practice.” Matt Fragile’s father and the elder Fragile’s former law partner, John Wooton, officiated basketball and practiced law together.
“I saw the benefit,” Fragile said. “They were two professionals in the daily lives and when they would take to the court in basketball they gave the same professionalism they did in the courtroom. I found it to be advantageous to have professionals – even in youth sports.” Another gentleman who influenced Fragile’s life is Ergie Smith – a basketball coach and long-time baseball official out of McDowell County. Fragile said Smith was a strong official and did things the right way, helping his community.
“He and I have become and remain great friends,” Fragile said. “He was very influential. He’s always someone I’ve leaned on to improve my officiating-along with the discussions I’ve had with my father.” A 1994 graduate of Greenbrier East High School, Fragile earned a marketing degree and an education certificate from James Madison University in 1998. Prior to law school, he taught in Roanoke Valley schools and volunteered as a high school baseball coach. Fragile earned his law degree from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia, in 2003. Fragile says his wife, Stacey – who is also an attorney, and daughters Daniella and Alessandra are extremely supportive of his officiating duties, even though officiating takes him away from them in the evenings.
“They’ve always been there for me and I’ve leaned on them to keep things going while I’m away,” Fragile said. “I used to officiate college baseball, which would take me greater lengths away from home for longer periods of time. My wife has always supported both my legal practice and my desire to officiate. I couldn’t do it without a strong support system at home.” Fragile is grateful for everyone with whom he has come into contact that have him along the way.
I want them to understand my appreciation,” he said. “I appreciate them helping me get to where I am today. I hope I can continue to pay it forward.”