By Jan Ballman
I’ve been attending the NCRA Annual Convention & Expo religiously since 2002, and the one hour each year that I am most proud to be a court reporter is at the awards luncheon, where the brightest and the best in our profession are recognized and celebrated.
Of the many honors bestowed during that ceremony, by far the most captivating are the winners of the speed and realtime competitions. Winners all — truly — just to be good enough to compete at that level! But the excitement, pride, anticipation, and camaraderie that surrounds these contestants and uniquely bonds them as they await the great reveal by Teri Gaudet, CPE, the contest committee chair, is almost palpable.
Last summer at the convention in Nashville, we all witnessed something incredibly poignant and very special at the awards luncheon: A mother and son realtime/speed championship face-off! Tami Frazier, RMR, CRR, and her 26-year-old son, Clay Frazier, RMR, CRR, competed side-by-side for a year’s worth of Frazier bragging rights. In attendance, cheering them both on, was yet another Frazier: Chase, 19, himself a court reporter in training and already a realtime/speed contest junkie. The happiness and pride we all watched bubble over as either Tami or Clay’s name was announced was heartwarming and worth more than the price of admission, especially for those of us who knew “the story behind the story.” Haylee Frazier, Tami’s daughter and Clay’s sister, had passed away only three months earlier. In fact, but for Chase, who made all the reservations, booked the flights and doggedly sent Tami daily encouragement texts as the conference approached, the historic familial competition may never have come to be.
The combination of seeing this beautiful young family compete at the highest level that our industry provides, as well as persevering and triumphing in so many ways, not only inspired and amped the entire auditorium but was the talk of the rest of the conference!
I was so totally taken in by the fabulousness of these Fraziers that I wanted to learn more about them, and I asked Tami to tell me their story.
Jan: Tell me a little about the Frazier family.
Tami: I married my high school sweetheart, Alton Frazier, at the age of 21. We were both superjocks in high school — he, the ‘baddest’ football player on the team, and I, a three-sport athlete. We were married in 1982 and had five kids: Haylee, Clay, Cole, Chase, and Cade.
Haylee clearly received all of her parents’ competitive genes. A star athlete with grit and heart, we spent many years watching her play both basketball and softball. In fact, I even had the pleasure of coaching her in basketball for several years. Haylee was always a free spirit and a bit of a rebel. After moving to Key West, she parlayed her athleticism into becoming a bottle-tossing bartender. It was just amazing to watch. Haylee tragically died on May 8, 2013 in a train accident.
Our son Cole is a senior in college. He’s truly brilliant, majoring in microbiology and minoring in chemistry.
Sons Clay and Chase both followed me into court reporting. Inspired by Ed Varallo’s father teaching him theory at the kitchen table, I taught both boys Mark Kislingbury’s theory before they started court reporting school. Clay, who is an avid skateboarder, was moving methodically through school when I took him with me to a two-day seminar taught by Mark Kislingbury. Mark loved that I had taught Clay his theory, and Clay was incredibly inspired by Mark and hung on his every word. Following that seminar, Clay advanced rapidly through school, eventually sitting for and passing the RPR, RMR, and CRR exams. Mark remained in contact with Clay throughout this time and actually helped Clay immensely with building a world-class dictionary. After starting out in court, Clay now works as a freelance reporter in Los Angeles. He lives in a fabulous loft and drives a nice car, both of which have inspired his younger brother, Chase, to say, “I want a piece of that court reporting action!”
Chase graduated from high school in 2012 and is currently in court reporting school. He already is a beautiful realtime writer. He has already has passed the written knowledge test of the RPR as well as the jury charge leg. Two left! And Chase definitely has the speed contest bug. He can’t wait to compete with his mom and brother in the realtime and speed contests.
Cade was born on October 8, 2001. He’s our little hero. When he couldn’t hold his head up at seven months, we knew something was wrong. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with a rare form of Muscular Dystrophy that doesn’t show up in blood tests or muscle biopsies. Cade is just a delight. He is so funny! He has a killer sense of humor, and he can already write a few words on the steno machine. Cade is only 12 but has already been through so much—even brain surgery! He has a very serious procedure coming up in May to put a rod in his back for scoliosis. At only 52 pounds, he’s pretty frail, and it’s a very serious surgery.
Jan: I assure you, your court reporting community will keep Cade in our prayers and send all kinds of good thoughts for his surgery to be a complete success. Can you tell us a little bit about your court reporting career?
Tami: I started reporting school right out of high school, in 1978. I passed the California CSR when I was 20 and began working pro tem in the county courthouse, and after three months I was offered a full-time officialship. By the age of 21, I was writing daily copy in court. I actually started writing realtime before I even knew what it was. I just knew I wasn’t going through my career selecting 1, 2, or 3 for every conflict and started working right away to eliminate all of them. I also had a knack for technology, handling all the negotiations with CAT and hardware vendors, selected the printers we used in court, et cetera. I passed the RPR, then six months later the CRR, and six months after that, the RMR.
Jan: Sure sounds like you were a natural from Day 1. When did you first start competing in speed contests?
Tami: I competed for the first time when the convention came to San Diego in 2000. Up to this point, I had never not passed a certification test. Having aced the RMR with relative ease, I just thought I’d show up and compete in the speed contest as long as it was coming to California. Well, I totally bombed it, but I met so many wonderful people that I knew I had found something very, very special. I decided to try it again, and I signed up for the California speed contest a couple months later. This time I actually practiced and ended up with only two errors in the 270 Q&A, finishing fourth overall. Now, I’m totally hooked!
Jan: On behalf of the National Court Reporters Foundation, I want to thank you for being a NCRF “Angel.” I know that you had a very special reason to give this year that is very close to your heart. Would you tell us a little about that?
Tami: After Haylee passed, I really didn’t think I could possibly make it to Nashville to compete in the realtime and speed contests, but I kept hearing her in my ear telling me I needed to listen to Chase and just go! Signing Haylee up as my “Angel” through the National Court Reporters Foundation was cathartic and very meaningful. The support and love we have received from the court reporting community since Haylee died has meant so much. It took a while for me to think of NCRF and the Angels, but when I did, I knew it was the perfect fit. I feel so good about it!
Jan: The Foundation is so touched that you chose to honor Haylee by making her an honorary NCRF Angel. We are very appreciative of your donation and support, and it’s very special that Haylee has joined our ranks. I have one more question for you. Tell us about the awards luncheon in Nashville when the speed and realtime contest winners were announced. How did it feel to have competed essentially both with and against Clay, and do you think Haylee played a role in the success that both of you achieved?
Tami: I remember the day so fondly. I was sitting up at the front of the room with Clay on my left and Chase on my right, feeling so grateful that we had made the effort to make it to the contest. At that moment, I was really feeling Haylee’s presence and doing everything I could to hold it together. I had huge swinging moments, going from being so proud of my boys to feeling the greatest loss of my life. But I knew Haylee would have loved the fact that we had honored her by making her an Angel and that Clay and I had competed. When Teri Gaudet started reading off the winners of the realtime literary test and announced, “In 13th place, Clay Frazier,” I was just so excited to hear his name announced and so happy for him that I jumped up and let out a huge “WOOOHOOOO” and was wildly applauding, and seconds later I hear her say, “And in 12th place… Mom, you still got him!” I’m not sure if Clay was more excited or shocked, but he blurted out, “Mom, you beat me! Good job!” I had never once qualified in any leg of a realtime contest before, so qualifying in both the speed and realtime was just fantastic for me. Of course, Clay qualifying in everything and coming in 10th overall in the speed contest was just amazing. It was like dancing on clouds. I could hear the whole room cheering for us, and all the contestants were so happy for us. It was just so much fun. A fantastic moment!
I want to share a few special moments we experienced at the conference regarding Haylee.
Right before I wrote the Q&A test, instead of writing the practice material, I started to pray. I thanked God for getting us to Nashville. I thanked Him for my boys and this great bonding experience. I thanked Him for all my wonderful friends at the convention. I asked Him to be with Clay and give him nerves of steel. And then at the end of my prayer, I just said, “Say hi to Haylee for me….” and I started to choke up. The test starts, and I have tears streaming down my face. But I kept writing and fighting because I knew how proud Chase and Clay would be of me, and I knew Haylee would want me to put my whole heart into it. So I like to say that we all passed the tests together that day.
And then the most amazing thing happened: On the way home, we got on the shuttle bus and sat down with this huge sigh of relief that we did it! Just then, Haylee’s song came on the radio! It’s Carrie Underwood’s “See You Again”: “I will see you again. This is not where it ends.” It gave me peace.
Jan: You and your boys have given the court reporting community so very much to be grateful for and excited about. We are wowed and totally inspired by your story of perseverance and triumph, and we love the fresh faces and new talent that the Fraziers represent. I know Haylee is very proud of all of you, and we are so honored to have her as our Angel! We’ll be looking for the Fabulous Fraziers and cheering you on in San Francisco!
Jan Ballman, RPR, CMRS, is a firm owner in Minneapolis, Minn., and the Chair-Elect of the National Court Reporters Foundation. She can be reached at email@example.com.