After nearly four months of searching, the Riley County boys’ basketball team finally has a new coach.
It’s a familiar name, too.
Steve Fritz, best known for his career as a decorated track and field star at Kansas State and his fourth-place finish in the 1996 Olympic decathlon, was approved by the Riley County school board Monday night to replace Kelly Hammel, who announced his retirement in February after 26 seasons and 348 wins.
Most recently, Fritz has served as the throwing coach under head coach Cliff Rovelto for the K-State track and field team for the last 21 years.
In addition to his notoriety as a decathlete, Fritz played basketball at Hutchinson Community College, where he hit the game-winning shot in the 1988 NJCAA tournament final, and then later K-State for two years.
Fritz was selected from 38 applicants and six interviewed candidates, with a search committee of Riley County administrators and teachers selecting him.
“We are excited to welcome Steve to Riley County,” USD 378 superintendent Brad Starnes said in a release. “His practical and varied experiences are the right fit for our schools. It speaks volumes that Coach Fritz is leaving behind his 25 years of committed service at Kansas State to begin a new journey as the Riley County High School head boys’ basketball coach.”
As a coach at K-State, Fritz developed 18 NCAA qualifiers in 50 events and produced eight All-Americans in 23 events.
As an athlete, Fritz was inducted to both the Hutchinson Community College and the Kansas State Athletics’ hall of fame, while making Team USA 10 times. He won a NJCAA national title in the decathlon in 1988 before attending K-State and winning back-to-back Big Eight titles as well as setting the Big Eight decathlon record of 7,924 points. Fritz was named an All-American in both his seasons at K-State.
After the 1996 Olympic games, Fritz was the national champion in the decathlon in 1997 and finished fourth in the world championships that year.
Fritz is married to current K-State volleyball head coach Susie Fritz.
The new coach takes over a program that has seen plenty of success over the years. From 2000-06, Hammel took the Falcons to the state tournament each year except 2004. They finished as state runner-up in Class 3A in 2006.
With track coach Travis Havenstein resigning late this spring, the head track and field coaching position at Riley County is also open, with Fritz an obvious candidate based on his experience, though Starnes said that opening has not yet been addressed.