As the montage of old photos continued to roll, the customary stonefaced look of Mike Parrish softened. His tear ducts started to well up, his face took on a reddish hue.
Eventually, the normally deadpan and sedated demeanor of Mike Parrish succumbed to full-on tears.
“That was probably the most shocking moment that any of us had ever seen out of him,” said Dean Brown, a long-time assistant coach of Parrish at North Marion High. “He got very emotional that night.”
It was the North Marion girls’ basketball team’s ceremony recognizing the outgoing 2018 senior class, and the team and their respective families assembled in the North Marion High School cafeteria. As part of the celebration, there was a slideshow of photos of NMHS’s players as little kids growing up through the years, including Parrish’s daughter, Leah, a senior on the 2018 Lady Huskies.
“He’s kind of like a Bill Belichick, Nick Saban, there’s not a lot of emotion,” Brown said, “and he gets up there and looks at his daughter and he started getting real emotional. I had never seen that side of the man.”
“Oh yeah, it was bad,” Leah said with a laugh.
The moment unveiled a vulnerability beneath Parrish’s straight-forward exterior, revealed a deeper side of a man mostly known for his simplicity.
That night was just the third time Leah and her brother, Micah, can ever recall seeing their father cry, they said. For the most part, when it comes to Mike Parrish, what everyone sees is pretty much who he is.
“What you see is what you get. He’s not too complicated,” said good friend Jon Parsons, whose daughter, Jessica, played under Parrish at North Marion and won two state championships. “He’s a pretty down-to-earth and a country guy. He’s just a good guy, a really good person.”
In just about any interaction with Parrish, he emits a sort of simple charm, a good-natured frankness that’s easily likeable. It doesn’t matter that the conversations may be a bit dry or the subject matter somewhat trivial, the exchange almost always comes across as endearing.
“He’s so simple that he’s easy to relate to,” Leah said.
Even when he’s straight-faced and demonstratively serious, Parrish is full of bonhomie, an automatic meme, Leah and Micah both said laughing. Leah’s Twitter timeline, in particular, is a dossier of jokes at her dad’s expense, where “big Mike” and his bland facial expressions are a smash hit. She says her most popular tweet was a photo of a dozen-plus wallet-sized copies of her dad’s official school pictures with the caption “the many emotions of mike parrish.”
“It went viral,” she said. “It was so funny.
“He is just a meme-worthy guy.”
Leah, then a senior for the Lady Huskies, just wanted to forget about the game. She was well aware she and her NMHS teammates had played a stinker, but what was the point of dwelling on all that went wrong that day for the Lady Huskies in a disappointing 61-55 road loss to Keyser.
Riding in the backset of the car, she put her earphones in, turned on some music and tried to block out the blunder that had just unfolded.
Her dad, however, after watching his team suffer what ended up as its only loss of the season in a 27-1 Class AA state championship 2018 season, wasn’t having it. There would be no forgetting the game nor brushing aside the loss for the full two-hour ride home.
“I was trying to put my headphones in, but he was looking directly at me through the rearview mirror and snapped, ‘Take your headphones out,’” Leah said. “It was the whole way home. It was awful.”
Micah, who played for the North Marion boys’ team from 2013-2017 and ranks seventh on the program’s all-time scoring list with 955 career points, escaped his dad’s tongue-lashings more often than Leah, who played directly under him for her entire four years of high school.
But Micah was still far from immune. His summertime practice sessions were “miserable” he said, and he remembers one time after an AAU event at George Washington High School, he was riding back home with his dad and they stopped for a bite around the St. Albans area. Once they got back on the road, it was yelling the rest of the way back to Fairmont.
“I mean, that’s a 2 ½ hour drive,” he said, half-smirking.
That’s the other side of Mike Parrish. For all of his humble amiableness, there’s a dueling ruthlessness alongside it, a fiery sternness. His standards are unforgiving, his principles unyielding.
“You haven’t been able to sit through any of his preseason meetings or anything, but he kinda tells everyone how it is at the beginning,” said Micah in regards to how Mike handles the Lady Huskies’ program, from griping parents to players’ expectations. “He’s a really nice guy, but he’s pretty authoritarian — he’s not going to take anything lightly.”
“He just likes to lay it out on the line. He says whatever is on his mind,” Leah said.
Throughout their upbringing, Leah and Micah were subjected to those rigid guidelines. In their childhood, they learned the game’s fundamentals — right-handed layups, left-handed layups, jab steps — on a 7-foot-high hoop in their basement because they didn’t have a regulation hoop at the house. And if they went to North Marion’s team practices with their dad, they had to make 200 shots at the side baskets while he ran practice, no exceptions.
“At 5 or 6 years old, (Leah) would always come up and be like, ‘Can I quit?’ I’d say, ‘How many do you have?’ She’d go, ‘52.’ I’d say, ‘Nope, you gotta get 200,’” Mike said. “She’d come back a little later...‘How many you got?’ She’d say, ‘127.’ Nope, you gotta get 200.”
“If I wasn’t shooting I was bugging him, ‘I’m hungry, I wanna go home,’” Leah said, “and he’d be like, ‘Oh, just make 200 shots and I’ll go get you something out of the vending machine.’ I’d be like, ‘Dad, I made 200.’ He’d say, ‘Oh, make 200 more. We’re not done yet.’”
Even in athletics aside from basketball, Dad was on their case, they said, whether it was critiquing Leah’s tennis game or instructing Micah on running cross country. And outside of sports, Mike instilled morals, respect and accountability in them, they said.
“He is the one who knows everything. Even now we’ll come home and he’ll be like, did you know so-and-so broke up and I’m like, ‘I didn’t even know they were dating,’” Leah said. “In our house, you can’t get away with anything because he knows.”
Those types of ideals have seeped into Parrish’s Lady Huskies program. On the court, there’s a precedent to reach the state tournament and contend for a championship every year. Off the court, there’s an expectation for his players to conduct themselves in a proper manner.
“He has a saying that we do after each practice with our kids that ends with them saying, ‘Do the right things,’” said Paige Tuttle, who is in her first season as assistant coach on Parrish’s staff after playing for him at North Marion from 2008-2012. “I like the message because although they’re great basketball players and we have an amazing (program) legacy, that’s what this is really all about.”
Nicole Freels wasn’t a star for North Marion’s 2018 Class AA state title team. She was never even a starter. But in this game, with the Huskies taking on rival Fairmont Senior and starting forward Cara Minor in foul trouble, Freels needed to have the swagger of one.
Freels didn’t do much in the scoring department, Brown remembers from his seat on the NMHS bench as Parrish’s assistant, but she played hard, rebounded well and was tough defensively, helping to lift the Huskies to a victory over their county rival Polar Bears.
“After the game, (Parrish) told her how much he appreciates her and how much she stepped it up,” Brown said. “I’m sure she’ll always remember that because when you get a compliment from Coach Parrish like that, it means a lot.”
Such acknowledgement doesn’t come often from Parrish, Brown admits. He doesn’t heap praise on anyone for merely doing what they’re supposed to do.
“He expects you to do the right thing and play basketball the way he wants you to play,” Brown said.
But in select moments, Parrish’s fairly staid exterior gives way to a genuine heart and a soft spot for his players.
“He knows when it’s time to let the girls know that he cares about them,” said Brown. “Like with his daughter, he was very hard on her, but every once in a while, he’d say, ‘I’m really proud of you.’ He was hard on her, but he still loved her.”
For all of the distinguishing features of Parrish’s North Marion teams on the court – full-court defensive havoc, pace and space offensive ideologies, non-stop effort and toughness –it’s his off-court investment in the players and the people around the NMHS program from the youth levels all the way up through high school that has truly made Lady Huskies basketball into a hegemon.
Parrish routinely shouts out the parents of his players for their contributions to the program, and he holds up the work of North’s feeder school coaches as the holy grail to the Lady Huskies’ sustained success. He has no ego-driven trepidation in delegating responsibilities and credit to his assistant coaches and no medial task is too small for him to do himself.
Parrish has even been known to drive hundreds of miles to Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio to watch his players play in offseason tournaments.
Micah says one time they packed up the car and drove to Lexington just to watch one of North’s youth group teams play a few games.
“He’ll show up to the places you’d least expect it,” Brown said. “We always laugh that if we played in an offseason tournament in Alaska, Mike would come walking in.”
The idea is simple: To get buy in from others, you have to buy in first.
“Being on the other side of things now and working with him directly each day, I have a totally different level of respect and appreciation for what he’s contributed to this program,” said Tuttle, who was a member of NMHS’s Class AAA three-peat teams from 2009-2011 before graduating in 2012 and playing four years of college ball at Glenville State.
“As a player, I had no idea what coaches like himself did for us behind the scenes. I remember I would talk to my college teammates about their high school experiences and they were so different than mine. He really cared for us and we knew he would do anything for us,” Tuttle said.
“When you coach for a long time and you’ve had success, you need a lot of your friends, your family, a lot of your middle school coaches, a lot of your parents to do stuff for the kids” Parrish said, “and we’ve been fortunate to have great people do that. We’ve had great community involvement and people who have supported us over the years. It takes all of that to keep the program running.”
Even before Parrish started coaching basketball at North Marion, first as an assistant coach with the boys’ team for five seasons and then as the girls’ head coach in 2004, he had already established a reputation in the game throughout the gyms in the local area. Only then it wasn’t about what Parrish could do from the sidelines, but what he could do on the court.
“When he got into the adult rec league stuff he was pretty good,” Micah said of a young Mike’s game. “Like all of the guys tell me he was actually good.”
Lean, spry and armed with a jump shot that was silky smooth, Parrish was more than good. He was the best.
“He was a legend around Marion County in the adult leagues,” said Parsons, who first befriended Parrish while both were playing in the local rec leagues. “He was probably the best player around here for a 5-6 year period. Those ex-Mountaineers from WVU would come down and play and ex-Fairmont State players played and Parrish’s teams were still winning the leagues.”
Parrish still holds the record for the most points scored in Mannington’s gym, Parsons says, after he dropped “probably 70” in a rec league game.
“It was cross half court, shoot a 3,” Leah said of her dad’s style. “Even watching him in our student-faculty games at North, he’d have like 60 points just on 3-pointers.”
Nowadays, Parrish is mostly resigned to coaching the game rather than playing it, but he’s still as immersed in the game as ever, seeing nuances others don’t, visualizing sequences others can’t.
“He’s been around a lot, watching and playing the game for years,” Micah said. “Even talking to his mom, she said he would have like four radios and a TV on listening and watching Magic Johnson play Larry Bird or something.”
Even after games in the Parrish household when everyone is unwinding or when the family goes out to eat for a little bit of quality time, Leah and Micah both say their dad can’t turn off the game entirely. He’ll either be checking his phone for scores from other games or be replaying a second quarter scenario from his own through his head,
“I’m like, ‘What are you even thinking about? You just beat a team by 50!’” Leah said. “He’s like zoned out,” adds Micah. “We’re just looking at him laughing.”
In his 16th season as head coach of North Marion girls’ basketball, Parrish stepped into Scotty Hamilton Gymnasium on Jan. 31 for a road game against Grafton on the brink of history. A victory would net him the 300th win of his career. The Huskies went on to record a 57-45 win as Parrish reached the elusive career milestone.
But the touchstone moment may have never happened...if not for that emotional senior night ceremony in the North Marion cafeteria almost two years earlier.
Before that 2017-18 campaign Parrish accepted North Marion’s opening as the school’s athletic director and announced he’d resign as the Lady Huskies’ head coach after the season. But as he watched the slideshow of photos documenting the growth of his daughter and her NMHS teammates through the years, the deeper joys of coaching tugged at his heartstrings. He just couldn’t give it up.
“He got up and said, ‘I don’t care if I can’t be athletic director, I just can’t give up coaching. I love it too much,’” Brown said of that night.
The Huskies won the Class AA state championship later that season, and at the press conference following the state title game victory, Parrish announced his change of plans: “I can’t quit,” he said. “I love coaching.”
Parrish ultimately took the athletic director position with the caveat he could remain coach of the Lady Huskies, where he’s constructed an all-time resume. He owns a 304-105 (.743) career record, nine conference championships, 10 state tournament appearances and four state championships, including a Class AAA three-peat from 2009-11.
Parrish also spent five years as an assistant coach for the boys’ team, nine seasons as the volleyball coach and eight seasons as the tennis coach. He’s also held various administrative positions and has taught health and physical education for almost 20 years at North Marion.
“If you want to talk about someone who represents their school, he represents North Marion High School. He’s black and silver through and through,” Brown said. “He’s from the area, he graduated from North Marion, he loves the people of North Marion.
“He is North Marion.”