Stew Fritz, East Meadow High School’s beloved varsity softball coach, is moving to Florida after 12 years of coaching for the Jets. He said he hoped to coach in the Sunshine State in the near future.
His departure will be a difficult one for EMHS athletes. Fritz led the Jets to two state championships, five appearances in the state playoffs, five Long Island championships, five Nassau County titles and nine county finals appearances — all in just 10 seasons of coaching the varsity squad.
“It was never my intention to coach softball,” said Fritz, 64, who lives in East Meadow. “There was a different mentality back in the 1970s and 1980s when I first started coaching.”
Fritz played baseball for one year at Queens College. After graduation, he intended to coach Flushing High School’s baseball team. But the athletic director asked him to coach the girls’ softball team instead. Fritz decided to give it go.
“It was the second-best decision I have ever made,” he said, “other than marrying my wife.”
The 1980s Flushing softball team had 10 players, some of whom had never picked up a glove before, but even so, for Fritz it was a rewarding experience. “They never missed a practice, even when there was a blizzard,” he said. Players, like other Flushing High School students, had to tak
public transportation to get to school, not the typical school bus. Their work ethic went beyond anything he had ever seen. After that experience, he said, he was “hooked on softball forever.”
Fritz coached for a total of 36 years, moving from Flushing High to Great Neck South High, and then East Meadow High. He came to East Meadow in 2009 as the junior varsity softball coach, and was promoted to head coach of the varsity in 2012.
He was in the right place at the right time, working with talented players, Fritz said, and great coaches. Becky Matia, assistant varsity softball coach, started coaching with Fritz in 2012. “While our victories and championships have been amazing,” Matia said, “I will always think of the laughs and the student athletes he has touched in so many ways that he doesn’t even know about.” Working alongside Fritz for nine years, Matia said, helped her become a better person and a better coach. “I am so thankful that he has come into all of our lives,” she said.
Fritz’s philosophy was, “The best part of coaching is teaching players how to develop life skills” — how to deal with failure, how to deal with success properly, how to accept others’ limitations. Of equal importance was his commitment to showing athletes the value of working together toward a common goal.
Throughout his years of coaching, he said, he strove to be a “teacher-coach,” developing the total person, not just the player. The ability to guide young people through coaching, he said, has been a blessing, and he can only hope that he gave half of what he got back.
Fritz said he savors the moments when former players reach out to him, sending pictures of their children or updating him on their life.
“Coach Fritz has always been humble, and credits the success of our program to the team, but it all starts with his very detail-oriented, planned practices,” said Alex Kelly, who was the captain of the EMHS varsity softball this spring. “He knows exactly what he wants to do, and how to get all of his players to their highest level.”
Christina Loffler, class of 2018 and a three-time All-County pitcher, said, “Fritz was a one-of-a-kind coach. He always made his teams work to their fullest capabilities.”
He was fun, Loffler added, and a hard-working coach, always making sure to create a family environment. He would be missed, she said, and would leave behind a legacy no one will forget.
He taught players that every time they stepped onto the field, they needed to “leave it all on the field.” One can only be at her best, he said, when she finishes the game having no regrets about her performance that day.
An essential lesson Fritz also taught his players is that the work is done in practice. “A game is just like a test in class,” he said, “and practices are the lessons.”
His advice for success for future players is a commitment to drive, dedication — and some patience. “It takes a lot of work,” he said, “but to achieve greatness, that is what is required.”
Players have to also withstand the pressure that comes with the sometimes unrealistic expectations of parents, coaches and peers. It’s best, he said, to know that softball is a game of failure, and the best hitters fail six out of 10 times. But they never stop trying to improve. “The rewards then become greater than the sacrifice,” he said.