Paul Fritz is 94 years old, plays golf every week and shoots in the 40s for nine holes.
That, in itself, makes him worthy of induction into a hall of fame.
When his lifetime of contributions to sports is considered, Fritz is an ideal fit for the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame. He will join Erinn Kingman, Mark Stomieroski, Curt Karpinski, Erika Kleinholz and the 1996 Elyria High volleyball team tonight as the 41st class to be enshrined.
“It’s great. I’m very proud,” Fritz said. “I’m going to have as big a crowd as you’ll ever have. I’ve got a big, big family. When you’ve got eight kids, you’ve got a big family.”
He has 25 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, many of whom will attend the banquet at Lorain County Community College’s Spitzer Center. They will come from Phoenix, California, Atlanta, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
Ten minutes with Fritz is all it takes to appreciate his zest for life, love of sports and sense of humor. His memories from a life on the diamonds, gridirons, courts and courses of Lorain County are filled with emotion and enriched by details 70 years haven’t dulled.
His legacy will continue for decades to come. He played, coached and officiated a variety of sports. He helped found Little League baseball in Elyria, and was one of three men to start the New Year’s Day Mud Bowl softball game that will have its 75th anniversary in January.
“No way can you let something that’s been going on that long end, when you think of people like that,” said Chris Sito, who runs the Mud Bowl and had Fritz throw out the first pitch for the 70th anniversary. “He wanted to make sure he was there. He was a trooper. It was snowing.”
Fritz moved to Elyria from Pennsylvania when he was a year old and hasn’t left, although he spends his winters in Florida, where he keeps his golf game sharp.
“I can barely walk, but I hit the damn ball pretty good,” he said. “If I can see the cup 12 feet away, I’ll nail that sucker.”
Fritz began to make his athletic impact in the mid-1930s at Elyria High School. He played quarterback for the lightweight football team — he was 130 pounds — that won the Lake Erie League championship in 1936. He also punted and returned kicks.
He was the point guard on the 1936 basketball team, Elyria’s first to qualify for a state tournament. He led the LEL in scoring and went on to play semi-pro ball.
He was also a scratch golfer and good bowler, but his best sport was softball. He was a pitcher in the Industrial and Independent fastpitch leagues and won many championships with the Polish Club and other teams. He played on a Cleveland traveling team that lost the state championship 2-0 to Columbus.
“I was the first windmill pitcher in Elyria, like the girls do now,” said Fritz, who pitched into his 50s. “I had a helluva change-up. It was a four-finger change-up with a lot of spin and fade to it.
“Nobody could hit it. I could tell you I was going to throw it and they couldn’t hit it.”
Heisman Trophy winner and Elyria legend Vic Janowicz was Fritz’s catcher when he was home from Ohio State. That’s just one of the names Fritz can drop.
He was a high school basketball referee for 15 years, making $8 a day to do JV and varsity. But one night he made $50 to go to East Liverpool on the Ohio River and ref East Liverpool vs. Martins Ferry. Browns Hall of Famer Lou Groza was the 6-foot-6, 240-pound center for Martins Ferry.
“He was tougher than hell,” Fritz said.
One of Fritz’s favorite accomplishments is starting the Mud Bowl with his brother John — a great bowler and Elyria Sports Hall of Famer — and Clem Monski. They were listening to the college football games on Jan. 1 — the Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Sugar Bowl — when Fritz had an epiphany.
“Why don’t we have a bowl game in Elyria, Ohio?” he said. “We’ve had 75 straight and never missed a year.
“It was the first Mud Bowl in Ohio, the United States, the world. Someday ‘60 Minutes’ is going to have me on TV if I live long enough.”
January doesn’t present the ideal conditions for softball, but the Mud Bowl always gets played.
“Snow, blizzard, rain,” Fritz said. “It’s cold as hell, but we always had booze around to warm us up.”
Fritz, who’s nickname is Polly, organized Little League in Elyria with Herman “Shorty” Lappin. He coached the first Little League all-stars to Canton for the state championship in 1949, where they lost 2-1 to Lexington.
He also coached a girls basketball team to the state championship in Akron.
Fritz may not be the prototypical Renaissance man, but he’s sports’ version. He played, coached, refereed and organized at a variety of levels. While he worked at Western
Automatic, he directed the athletic program that won multiple Industrial League titles.
After he retired from his full-time work, he spent “the greatest 10 years” at Hilliard Lakes Golf Course. He also bartended at Gibby’s Restaurant for 10 years, where his favorite customer was longtime Chronicle sports editor Russ Davies.
“Russ Davies was my mentor,” Fritz said. “He introduced me to Hank Greenberg, Lou Boudreau — my favorite manager — and Bob Feller.”
Fritz’s wife of 60-plus years, Ruth, died eight years ago and he spends his time woodworking, gardening and golfing. And bragging about his family.
Granddaughter Mallory Fritz went to West Point and is on the traveling detail with President Obama. A great-grandson is a doctor in children’s trauma, and a great-granddaughter won a national volleyball title.
Fritz was the youngest of nine siblings and will turn 95 on July 8. He’s excited to celebrate his induction with his huge family.
“This is probably my last hurrah,” he said.
Until he breaks 50 on the golf course again next week.
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ELYRIA SPORTS HALL OF FAME
• WHAT: 41st class induction
• WHEN: Tonight, social hour at 5 o’clock
• WHERE: Spitzer Center, Lorain County Community College