2019 was one heck of a way to close out a decade in Austin County’s sports history. From the top of Bellville to the southern-most point in Wallis, it was The Sealy News’ honor to bring you the sports news for the county and there was certainly no shortage of tremendous accomplishments.
This past calendar year had numerous achievements not only on the district and regional levels but also at the state- and nation-wide levels with another border-breaking performance to boot.
The staff compiled the top 10 stories of the year on both the news and sports side and we hope you enjoy this recap to find out what the top sports story was this year.
Until then, we pick up with #3 and a record-breaking sophomore season from one former Tiger pole vaulter.
It’s hard to avoid the cliché “Continues to raise the bar,” when describing the path of Clayton Fritsch’s pole vaulting career.
The 2017 graduate from Sealy High School twice qualified for the state meet in Austin which helped him secure a roster spot with the Sam Houston State Bearkats where he became the first in school history to earn All-American honors in both the indoor and outdoor circuits in the same year.
Before his sophomore year was over, he left the country for the first two times in his life to represent USA Track and Field at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) U-23 Championships in Queretaro, Mexico, and the Pan-American Games in Lima, Peru, where he medaled in both meets.
That makes two his lucky number: Two trips to the state meet in high school, two All-American bids and two international medals after just his second year of college.
The weight all of those titles together is certainly significant and Fritsch noted on his way back from his first taste of international competition, a gold medal from the NACAC Championships along with the meet record, that it may take a little bit to realize he was truly living his dream.
“On the way back was when I was really starting to think about it; waiting on the plane I was just super happy to go and compete for USA, that’s always been a dream and to win the meet was that much better,” he said in an interview in July. “Even not having a coach there (and still getting those results) really brought a lot of confidence knowing what I can do.”
His event coach maintains that despite all of that success, Fritsch remains level-headed and one of the best teammates you could wish for.
“Ask anything of him, he’s going to get it done,” said Bearkats’ jumping coach Cutter Bernard. “He’s one of the guys that you can count on; if I’ve got something going on between cross country meets, recruiting, whatever, it’s like, ‘Hey, Clayton, I need this to get done,’ and he’s rocking and rolling. We’re excited and blessed to have him here.”
Although it might not have exactly been like a love at first sight, head coach David Self elaborated on when it clicked in his mind that Fritsch needed to be on the campus of Sam Houston State.
“I had a chance to watch him jump, and he’ll remember this, we were at Katy Tompkins and here comes this kind of tall, lanky guy and he’s got two poles with him and I thought, ‘This is the guy that Cutter told us about?’” Self recounted. “Then he goes down the runway, he plants the pole and I’m like, ‘Well, OK, there’s a little ability here,’ and I think he won that day and I remember texting Coach Bernhard going, ‘Yeah, this guy’s got it.’”
Luckily enough for the coaches, Fritsch felt the same way and decided to make Sam Houston his next home.
“There are other guys out there; Ricky Seals-Jones is out there making it in the NFL and stuff. I always looked at that Eric Dickerson sign on the football field and thinking, 'I want to be that guy some time,' where you've made Sealy proud,” Fritsch said. “You're doing what you do for a town and you have the support that they have given me and I just, I'm in debt to them always.”
His high school jumping coach understood this kind of talent doesn’t come around very often and he was sure not to let it slip.
“I remember going to a track meet early on, my son was a couple years younger than him,” said Jeff Brandes, who owns and operates Visual Promotions in Sealy as his day job and coaches pole vaulters on top of that. “I was watching some of these kids and I saw (Clayton) walking across carrying a pole and I noticed his Mom was with him, it might have been seventh grade, eighth grade year. I saw him jump a few times and I thought that kid might have some potential, but I didn’t think too much of it other than the fact that I remember sitting back talking with my wife saying, ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ not real certain. Finally, I got the nerve I talked to his Mom and said, ‘Hey, who’s working with you guys? And would you like me to come out sometime?’” and the rest is history.