K-State's assistant coach Steve Fritz watches Ryan Hershberger compete in the men's shot put during the Kansas Relays at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas on April 20, 2012. (Scott D. Weaver/K-State Athletics)
January 28, 2014
By Mark Janssen
It's funny how things work out sometimes.
Steve Fritz was a Kansas state high school track champion while at Southeast of Saline High School near his central Kansas home of Gypsum. Yet he said, "I've always been a basketball guy. It was my first love in sports. I wasn't that into running for no reason."
Later, at Hutchinson Community College, Fritz won the national junior college decathlon title, plus was a two-time track All-American. Yet he said, "My dream was to play basketball at the Division I level."
At Kansas State, a stack of come-true dreams kept getting taller and taller, which included becoming a United States Olympian in the decathlon.
After being an all-state prep hoopster, and after hitting the game-winning shot in the national junior college championship game for the Blue Dragons in 1988, Fritz became a two-sport standout for the Wildcats.
"I came for track, but knew I would have the opportunity to walk-on to Coach (Lon) Kruger's basketball team," said Fritz. "Track was something that came fairly easy to me, but I was never a fan of running just to run. If there was a purpose and a goal to reach, I could run as much as I had to, but basketball was my love. Enough people told me I couldn't do it that the stubbornness in me came out to prove them wrong."
While scoring just seven points and snagging two rebounds in 1988-89, Fritz hung up his sneakers for the 1989-90 season. But it was prior to the 1990-91 campaign that Askia Jones suffered a broken bone in his foot.
"I had continued to play pickup games with the guys during the summer and they came looking for me to play that next year," said Fritz, who would contribute 3.1 points per game and 2.0 rebounds per game for the 1990-91 Wildcats.
Still, it was track where Fritz made headlines. He held the Big Eight record in the decathlon with 7,924 points and twice was an NCAA All-American.
Oh yes, in 1996 Fritz represented the United States in the Olympic Games staged in Atlanta, Ga., where he placed fourth in the decathlon. He later represented the USA in a host of international competitions, and still later coached USA teams that competed world-wide to go along with 21 years of serving on the Kansas State track staff headed by Cliff Rovelto.
IT'S FUNNY HOW THINGS WORK OUT SOMETIMES: Fritz was at the top of his coaching career at K-State winning oodles of Big 12 titles and most recently serving as head coach of the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships.
He was coaching the elite of the elite in track and field.
But when the Class 3A Riley County High School boys basketball position opened, after some soul searching, the 46-year-old applied, was offered and accepted the job in his favorite sport.
He repeated, "Basketball has always been my passion."
And of equal passion was to be the best father he could be for his seventh-grade son, Thomas, and fourth-grade son, Jacob.
"I had reached a point of not wanting to miss the activities of my kids," said Fritz, who is married to Suzie Fritz, K-State's volleyball coach. "It was an attempt to put myself in a better situation to be around my family."
Through the years, Fritz helped coach several of his sons' teams, along with being a pop in the stands at other times.
"Both have their issues," Fritz said. "It's hard to sit and watch without any control of what's going on, but I know it's difficult to coach your own son and just as difficult for them to be coached by their dad."
So when the head coaching position of the Falcons came open, Fritz, who is also serving as head track coach and a substitute teacher at the school, said, "In good high schools, opportunities don't come along very often. Coaches come and stay for 20 to 25 years at a school like Riley County. If I didn't take this opportunity, who knows when the next one might come along?"
At K-State, Fritz personally tutored eight NCAA All-Americans who won a total of 23 All-America certificates. Today, he's coaching 14- to 18-year-olds... and loving it.
"The coaching is the same," said Fritz. "It comes down to can you relay the information to a person who needs to improve.
"In college, you have a group that will buy-in to whatever you ask, and there's a group that already think they know what it's all about and will resist you," said Fritz. "In high school, you don't have that group who think they know it all, but some don't listen because they're only there for the social aspect."
Fritz said he wasn't sure if his Olympic resume of nearly two decades ago is known today by his Falcon players, and he's fine with that.
"Most, I think, just know me as coach, which is great," Fritz said. "What I did a long time ago isn't relevant today. I just know I'm having a blast. I'm in the gym shooting before practice, and I stay after and shoot with them after practice."
What Fritz knows is this: "The Riley County administration gave me an opportunity. My goal is to get this team to improve and do well so people don't second guess the leap of faith the administration took on me," said Fritz. "With the kids, it's a goal to get each one of them to do what they're capable of doing. Are you playing to your potential, right now? That's the only way I try to judge them."
We hope you enjoy K-State Sports Extra. We would like to hear your comments and any story ideas for future emails, so fire them our way. Contact Kelly McHugh, Mark Janssen or K-State Assistant AD for Communications Kenny Lannou.