Monday, December 15, 2014

Coach Bill Fritz Retires after 41 years as Track and Cross Country Coach at Rowan University


Bill Fritz with used running shoes donation for charity from his runners.

When Bill Fritz and Oscar Moore arrived at Glassboro State College (NJ) together in 1971 from Southern Illinois University not even the most knowledgeable track aficionado could have predicted that they would be one of the most successful track and cross-country coaching duos in NCAA Track and Field and Cross Country history.

The relationship was unique. Fritz was to assist 1964 Olympian Moore as they started the first track and field team at Glassboro. Their roles were reversed for the already established Glassboro State cross-country team with Fritz the head coach and Moore the assistant. The Glassboro “Professors” cross-country team they inherited was an all-male squad in an overwhelmingly female school known as a “teaching college”.
Bill Fritz and Oscar Moore
The team ran through the peach and apple orchards surrounding Glassboro.
Like many wildly successful partnerships, Fritz and Moore’s start was inauspicious as the first words from the Glassboro Athletic Director Fritz and Moore were to “get a haircut”.
“We just ignored him,” remembers Moore with a laugh over 40 years later. “Fritz is a Native American and had beautiful long flowing hair, and I had an afro.”
 Despite ignoring their first bit of South Jersey “advice”, the coaching duo would continue to coach together until Moore’s retirement in 2003.
Together they coached 130 All-Americans and 24 NCAA individual champions in track for men and women, dozens of All Americans in Cross Country, as well as 44 Division III National Champions, five straight Division III National Championships, dozens NJ  Conference Championships and a name change to Rowan University.
Fritz continued coaching until his retirement this summer. Coaches Fritz and Moore were reunited with a large number of their runners at a Rowan University bar b que honoring Fritz for his 42 years of coaching at Rowan. As their former runners shared laughs and reminisced over great times with Coaches Moore and Fritz some mentioned probably their greatest legacy—the number of their runners who went on to successful coaching careers, most in New Jersey. A quick tally produced over two dozen coaches, men and women who ran for Fritz and Moore.
One of the former coaches is Ken Kling, Bill Fritz’s first runner at Glassboro State College. Kling remembered:
” The coach before Fritz and Oscar Moore was a guy who was in the Physical Education Department, a Gymnastics Coach who took Cross Country on a whim. Although we had winning teams, he did not know what he was doing. He would ask other coaches he met what they did for workouts. If the coach said hills, we would do hills for the week... If it was intervals, we did intervals for the week. You get the idea. I had to tell him how to set up workouts and what type of workouts to do. I even gave him a copy of Tom Osler’s book “The Conditioning of Distance Runners”. There was no structured program.
Before the end of my junior year, we were told that the School was hiring two new coaches from Southern Illinois University, Bill Fritz for Cross Country and Oscar Moore for the first ever track team that was to start the following spring. The bio on the two was very impressive. We knew about Oscar, as he was a well -known Olympic runner.
When we were introduced to Bill Fritz, here was a young guy in his thirties with a goatee, mustache, glasses, big physique but slim, who looked very distinguished. He had an easygoing style and was quick with a laugh. Fritz was a very likeable person from the start. Talking to him it was clear about his knowledge and love of the sport as it radiated from his demeanor.
When Fritz and Oscar came onto the coaching scene, they brought a detailed step-by-step program that included long distance, intervals and hills that was challenging and pointed toward the big meets. He contacted us over the summer and wanted us to do at least 500 miles during the summer.
Before the meets he would say, “I want you to warm up so you are glistening before the race.” When he would explain about a hill workout he would say, “I want you to work the hills real hard and I want you to remember that the hills are your friends” When we would do intervals, it was all scientific. Sometimes he would time our rest period and sometimes we had to take a pulse count until our pulse was back to normal resting rate. For instance  we would run 20 x400’s and each time after that he would reduce the time and reduce the rest period. After tough workouts, he would say, “Yeah, you are going to be tough to deal with!”
Bill Fritz surrounded by some of his runners
With his varied workouts, he made it fun and challenging. We only had eleven on the team. Our record was something like 9-5 and we took second in the District championships, which qualified us for nationals. We did not get to go to nationals as the Athletic Director, said even though we qualified there had to be a written policy in place on the criteria to go to nationals.
Oscar would run with us each day which was an inspiration to the team, as he was so smooth and fluid and he moved effortlessly. He would give us tips for warming up for races, race strategy, weekend workouts, rest and diet.
Fritz with runners Heath and McArthur
Although I only had the opportunity and the privilege to run for Coach Fritz for one year, it was one of my most enjoyable cross-country years ever. My only regret was that I did not have more years to work under his guidance.”
When asked how long he had been coaching at Rowan Fritz would often answer with his trademark  good humor, “Well, let’s see, it’s been six decades, two centuries and two millenniums.”
Fritz downplayed his many National Coach of the Year awards: “I don’t even worry about those [individual accomplishments] because most of those are political anyway,” he says. “Track is all settled out on the field, it’s all in feet and inches. There’s no voting, it just comes out the way it comes out.”
I consider myself extremely lucky to have Browning Ross as my high school coach (Gloucester Catholic), and Fritz and Moore as my college coaches at Rowan/Glassboro. All 3 were great coaches but even greater men.

Fritz with runner Sid Holzer
At his retirement Bar-b-que, I asked Fritz if there is anything about coaching that he would not miss. He quickly answered, “The time between competition.  After a while you do get tired of the time spent away from home waiting for the competition to start, and also the time between events.”
 I quickly had a flashback to the long track meets when I ran for Glassboro State  spent in Long Island, New York  waiting for the 10k race walk, 400-meter relay and other events to finish so I could run my event the Steeplechase, and then sitting through another 4-5 hours of events before we could leave. My mind boggled at the thought of doing that and the required travel for over 40 years.
At the Bar-B-Que, Coach Moore had a confession to make to his gathered runners, “All of those times I ran with you guys in cross country I was spying. I would go back to Fritz and say “So and so can run a lot faster, he just kept up with me for 8 miles,(Moore was the top ranked Masters runner in the country at the time), I don’t think he is pushing enough in the races. Fritz would have that inside information and tailor his workouts and use it to try to positively motivate that runner.”
Fritz was always positive. His most common words of encouragement were “Good effort!” He was also quick with a laugh or a joke to break the tension for the entire four years that I ran for him.
Oscar Moore, Pete McArthur, Bill Fritz, Jack Heath
I was pleasantly surprised that one of Fritz’s favorite memories was from the years when I ran on the team. The Glassboro State Track bus would pick me up on Route 42 a block from my house, on the way to meets in New York City and Philadelphia and other destinations. One time while waiting for the bus, a New Jersey State Trooper stopped and asked me where I was headed in my Glassboro tracksuit. When I said “Kings Point, Long Island he offered to relay me most of the way up to New York via NJ state troopers barracks. I told him the bus would be taking me up in a few minutes. Ironically, the team bus came flying by me at 60 miles an hour. I waited and it circled back and picked me up in a few minutes. In 42 years of coaching, Bill Fritz never forgot anyone.
My Glassboro track and cross country teammate Pete McArthur summed up the experience of running for Coach Bill Fritz and our universal respect in these words. “I have a son who is going into college next year and hopes to play sports, I couldn’t think of a better thing to have happen to him than to have a coach as fine and caring as Bill Fritz and Oscar Moore were to us.”
Note: This article written by Jack Heath, Appears in Runners Gazette Magazine
 Best of luck to Justin Dimit, named as Bill Fritz's replacement as Mens Track and Cross-Country Coach at Rowan. Dimit and Women's Coach Ringo Adamson will look to continue the long tradition of excellence set by Bill Fritz and Oscar Moore.

Fritz with many of his former runners dating back to the early 70's
Bill Fritz and Rowan Women's Track and Cross Country Coach Ringo Adamson

Tom Osler and Bill Fritz

Retirement cake signed by Fritzs' runners

Coach Fritz with Lady Prof Runners
Tom and Kathy Osler with Bill Fritz

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Belmead Trailfest: Gorgeous venue, perfect place to launch an ultrarunner’s dreams

Written by Emily Ward

A motley bunch of us milled around the stable waiting calmly for directions to go forth into battle. Tall and fit, short and portly, old and the wise, naïve and undertrained, some were dressed in fabrics from 1972 cotton, while others had state-of-the-art 2014 dri-fit.
 All were up for a two-footed adventure on hallowed ground. Before we knew it, the cracked neon trash cans were positioned in a makeshift starting line and the nuns bestowed the final blessings.

 No nerves, no last minutes strides, no care in the world of where we were going or how long it would take to get to the end. At that very moment – I knew this day would be something so much more special than a simple race.

This was the Belmead Trailfest, a first year ultra-running festival traversing the rural, historic, and absolutely stunning acreage of the Belmead on the James property in Powhatan County Virginia. 

 Maintained by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament when it was operational in the 1800s, the property now contains thousands of acres of single track trails, ornate old school buildings, and rolling cornfields. It is also the final resting place of so many who were called to live a religious vocation. The property is not usually open to the public, but today was different.

I chose the 50K race, but there was also a 50-miler. Both races were true no-frills affairs, with all sorts of characters, visual oddities, and comforts of home. This was no Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon. It was like staying in a bed and breakfast in rural Ireland compared to checking in at a Marriott and hitting up IHOP. This race was so personal and inviting and you wanted to stay just a bit longer and fill up on conversation and homemade food.
Finisher's coasters for the first-ever Belmead Trailfest in Powhatan Co. Credit:
Finisher’s coasters for the first-ever Belmead Trailfest in Powhatan Co.
Each of the ten mile loops was like running through a fairytale. The morning dew never quite burned off, captured in delicate little spider webs on the freshly cut running path. Every now and then, a horse jump would appear, sometimes with bright orange and yellow mums planted inside the posts with care. After the first loop, I still felt the playful urge to self-hurdle over the barriers, but I knew it was not a great idea with the increasing probability of a face plant with each additional mile.

     The sun beat down intensely in the middle miles of each loop, but my gaze remained transfixed on the simple little graveyard of white, painted, and unmarked wooden crosses centerpiecing the massive cornfield, as this sight allowed any discomfort, angst, or dread about this long race to melt away. I floated through these middle miles, thinking it would be fine if I moved on to the next life right now and rested under that white cross raised on the grassy knoll.
     As I ambled around the corners of the field, I snatched bursts of the smoky, spicy smell of charred corn. It was a spiritual sensory overload — a wonderful fusion of all of the life reflection taken from my very best runs, talks with God, and walks in the woods.
     The second half of each loop immersed runners in not-too-technical singletrack deep in the woods of the property. Little wooden bridges spanned trickling creeks and hand carved wooden plaques, indicating the crossing of such curious spots as “Sister Foolproof Bridge.”
2014 Bellmead Trail Fest  (168) (Medium)
Mustering a smile is not easy deep into a 50-mile or 50K race.
Oh, the rest stops! Every three miles, a blue pop-up tent was spotted through the clearing. As fatigue and thirst crept into my body, I questioned whether this was a mirage or the read deal. Water? Blue Gatorade? A swig of pickle juice? Friendly, chatty volunteers were ready to cut up a nutella quesadilla, hand you a fig bar, or shove some turkey sandwich squares in your pocket to-go. This was race hospitality at its finest.
     As the last left hand turn came into sight, I could hear the small, but mighty band of spectators and volunteers beckon me to the finish chute. I mustered up my finest form to bound through the finish flags with a big smile on my face. I was immediately handed a hand-carved wooden coaster, so I can proudly display proof of my new longest-race-distance on my coffee table for years to come.

   I was excited to try out the 50k (31-mile) distance at a low key, trail event at a location close to home, but the entire experience was more rewarding than I ever imagined.
   I felt like my race entry was helping to fund the outreach and the deteriorating historic buildings on this beautiful property, while simultaneously feeding my soul doing what I love. I am ready to tackle some other races, but I am not sure they will be as special to me as the Belmead 50k.
This article appeared in Richmond Outside
Photo Credits:
Note: Author Emily Ward was an NJSIAA Cross Country Meet of Champions Qualifier for Gloucester Catholic High School, and a outstanding track and cross-country runner for the University of Richmond.