All in the Family



“Luke!”

Ed Fritz is calling one of his sons to get ready so he can drive him to basketball practice. A few minutes later, he tries again.

Ed Fritz leads the Blue Valley Northwest Huskies.
Ann Fritz is in her 18th season as the head coach of the Blue Valley North girls’ basketball team.

“Luke!”

Sunday is the calm day at the Fritz household. But even on Sundays, there’s basketball involved, and that shouldn’t surprise anyone, considering that Luke’s parents are two of the best coaches in the Blue Valley School District — and the entire Kansas City area.

Ann Fritz is in her 18th season as the head coach of the Blue Valley North girls’ team, while Ed is in his 12th leading the boys’ team at Blue Valley Northwest. At these two rival high schools, the same family has built two successful programs predicated on defense and team basketball. Ann has won three state championships with the Mustangs, while Ed wears a white Huskies hoodie that depicts his first state title at Northwest in 2013, where his team compiled a 25-0 record.

The Huskies have a realistic shot at repeating as state champions with all the starters back from their undefeated team and eight seniors on the roster.

“Way too many,” Ed says. “We’re ranked in the Top 10, Top 20 in a lot of the national polls, so I guess that puts a little extra pressure on us.”

One of those seniors is the Fritzes’ son Vince, a good basketball player in his own right with a high basketball IQ. He’ll be playing his college basketball for Sacred Heart in the Northeast Conference when he graduates, and he also has teammates who are going to play collegiately like David Salach (Washburn), Ben Richardson (Loyola University in Chicago) and Clay Custer, who Ed says should play for coach Fred Hoiberg “all the time” at Iowa State.

The Mustang girls, 20-5 last season, are a team that Ann calls one of her favorites that she’s coached at the school. They lost to eventual state champion Wichita South before beating Maize to place third in the state tournament.

“We’re led by two seniors who’ll do fine and have started ever since their freshman year,” she says of this year’s team. “The rest of my players are young, but they have a lot of potential.”

It’s not just the spouses who are the East Kansas League equivalent of those “House Divided” vanity plates. It’s the siblings who show their allegiance to both schools.

While Vince plays for Northwest, his sister, Jordan, is a freshman at Blue Valley North. She’s a two-sport athlete, playing soccer in the spring and possibly suiting up for Ann’s varsity basketball team.

“It was a tough decision for her, but it was her decision,” Ann says. “I didn’t try to get involved in it at all, but it’s kind of nice for me so I can see her a lot more. She thought if she went to Northwest that it would be weird for me to coach against her.”

Ann and Ed come from large, sports-centric families. Ed has five sisters and a brother; Ann has five brothers and a sister.

Ed’s father, Harry, was a coach himself and the athletic director at several universities, including Western Illinois, Buffalo and Bemidji State in Minnesota. He was also the executive director of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

“My dad was always my hero,” he says, “and I just loved being in the gym with him.”

The head football coach at Sam Houston State is Ed’s brother Willie, whose Bearkats knocked on the FCS National Championship’s door the previous two seasons, losing to North Dakota State in the title game in 2011 and 2012. Perhaps Willie’s coaching trajectory at Sam Houston can somewhat parallel his brother’s at Northwest; Ed’s teams lost in the state championship game three years in a row before barging through that door last season.

Ann’s father, Vince Costello, played middle linebacker in the NFL for 12 seasons, 10 of them for the Cleveland Browns, and five of those years for legendary coach Paul Brown. After coaching on Brown’s staff with the Cincinnati Bengals, Costello moved to Kansas City to be an assistant for the Chiefs in the mid-1970s, and he’s been a Kansas Citian ever since.

Vince the younger is such a student of the game that he wants to get into coaching himself, possibly in the college ranks. His dad was an assistant in college for the University of Nebraska-Kearney before making the switch to high school, which has provided more flexibility for him.

Ed and Ann Fritz

It’s hard not to talk a little basketball with each other, but Ann and Ed have learned not to let anything that’s happened at practice or a game spill over at their house too much. There’s one rule that’s been helpful in their marriage through all of their years in coaching: “Don’t bring any work home with you,” Ed says.

And although some of their games overlap, the Fritzes can watch each other’s teams play as often as possible, thanks to the way their schedules are set. The girls’ games are usually on Mondays and Thursdays, while the guys’ games are on Tuesdays and Fridays in EKL play. It’s a calendar full of activity in the winter months, but when you’ve been at the game this long, you’re accustomed to busy.

Their oldest kids were at many games in Ann’s earlier years at North, scurrying around the perimeter of the gym or up and down the bleachers. Ann has a picture saved on her phone from when Blue Valley North captured one of their state championships, smiling jubilantly as she cradles Jordan in her arms like Drew Brees did with his son when he won the Super Bowl. More than a decade later, Jordan might get a taste of playing in the state tournament for her mom during her four years as a Mustang.

Twelve-year-old Luke could play for Dad, too, at Northwest, but he’s got a couple more years before he tries out for his team. Luke, a seventh-grader at Oxford Middle School, bounds down the steps and files out with his dad so he can take him to practice.

As they drive away, Ann turns the volume down on the TV. The channel is changed from the Chiefs game to, what else, a holiday college basketball tournament on ESPN2.

“Wow, it’s so quiet,” she says.

If only for a little while.

photos: Laurel D. Austin