A decision in a 2017 Booster Club meeting may have just set the table to create only the second All-American track athlete in the history of Sam Houston State University.
Then-president Keith Novicke argued that the purchase of a pole could change an athlete's life if he or she knew how to use it and, in that year, there were a pair who Novicke cited as being the best chance at taking the best advantage of the acquisition.
Colton Gajewski and Clayton Fritsch were those athletes and Novicke added that the jumping coach, Coach Brandes, included that Gajewski knew what he was doing on the vault and could easily reach a higher altitude had he been operating with proper equipment.
Sam Houston State University scouts had already seen the pair of athletes and indeed liked what they saw and Novicke pushed to get a pole purchased, adding it very well could change these boys’ lives.
There was certainly truth to that statement as both signed on to participate in track and field at the college level, Gajewski at Southern Arkansas and Fritsch at Sam Houston where he specialized in the pole vault.
Now a sophomore, Fritsch made his second trip to a national competition, although the first journey was as a freshman to outdoor nationals, where the top 24 athletes in each event compete for the top spot.
This indoor season, Fritsch made his mark known throughout the conference and regional meets which landed him a spot on the national roster along with a pair of Bearkat sprinters.
Although they could not coach him up on how to get a couple extra inches, Fritsch noted it was great to have familiar faces around the training facilities.
“When you’ve got teammates that have been with you every other step of the way, having them there helping you train made it that much more comfortable,” Fritsch said.
That comfortability may have just been the edge he needed, as he added that he was feeling confident among the top 16 pole vaulters in the nation competing in indoor track.
“It was definitely there if I had it,” Fritsch said of finishing near the top. “Some people have good days, some people have bad days; not everyone always jumps their personal record. I knew I just had to put it together.”
And put it together he did, continuing to add height onto the school record which he broke back in February, allowing him to climb even higher in the rankings as well.
He cleared 5.33m without fail before hitting 5.43m, 5.53m and 5.58m on his second attempt each to increase that school record of his own.
He was then met with a 5.63-meter clearance which would put him in the top eight and what was going through his mind?
“How bad do I really want it?” Fritsch asked himself.
Clearly, he wanted it pretty bad as he jumped over the bar on his first try, which turned out to serve as an important tie-breaker with the eighth-place finisher.
K.C. Lightfoot of Baylor needed a second attempt at 5.63 meters and since neither he nor Fritsch cleared 5.68, the seventh-place position went to the Sealy native. The podium finish also came with All-American honors as being one of the top eight finishers in your event.
Fritsch added it was definitely tougher competition on the indoor national stage compared to outdoors and added these big dreams started right here in the little town of Sealy.
“I’m really blessed to have that title [of All-American], that’s pretty amazing,” he said. “Like you said Sealy’s a small town, Sam Houston isn’t the biggest either but I’m getting my name out there, people are getting more familiar with me and know what I’m capable of.”
He added he understood the gravity of becoming just the second Bearkat to earn All-American status and certainly hopes there are more behind him.
“It’s a pretty good list to be on,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be adding some more soon.”
The only other Sam Houston track athlete to do so actually occurred last season, with Buffalo’s own Tyler Adams grabbing a third-place finish in the heptathlon.
Fritsch noted since his indoor season ran so long, he was likely going to take the rest of this week off before the outdoor season picks up for him as he added that some meets are already beginning to run.
But after that, his sights are set on clearing an international standard that could qualify him for the USA Championships over the summer.
He included that those aims have always been set high, and he doesn’t see a reason to stop where he’s at.
“I’ve always had big dreams,” Fritsch said. “I’ve come this far, why not keep going?”