Spradlin: The little guard that does

Still “all in” while following Kaitlynn Fratz to a national title

Videos
* Kaitlynn scores 2,000th point
* Kaitlynn’s 25 points paces Huskies to 1A West Region crown
* Kaitlynn becomes all-time county scoring leader
* Huskies beat Mardela to earn title game berth
2011 Md. Class 1A state championship vs. Dunbar

Kaitlynn Fratz is listed in the California (Pa.) University media guide as being 5 feet, 5 inches tall. But physically, her skill set comes into play on the basketball court and when she hunkers down for a drive to the basket, it’s likely that she’s well under 5 feet.

Kaitlynn turns 22 on Sunday. She was born and raised in the small town of Accident, Md. — population 325, with 30,100 in the county — and attended Northern Garrett High School then Pitt-Johnstown before transferring to California University.

An NCAA Division II photo Kaitlynn Fratz, with ball, drives for a layup for two of her 15 points in the national championship game.

An NCAA Division II photo
Kaitlynn Fratz, with ball, drives for a layup for two of her 15 points in the national championship game.

On Friday night, she led the Vulcans women’s basketball team to the NCAA Division II national championship with a 86-69 victory over California Baptist (Riverside, Calif.) in Sioux Falls, S.D. Kaitlynn scored 15 points in the title game and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the surface of it, you know by now this story seems to have nothing to do with Richmond County, North Carolina. But I beg to differ. I’ve often heard that people from Richmond County are at a disadvantage because it’s an economically depressed area. Well let me tell ya, few Garrett County natives are wealthy (and those who are likely no longer make the area their primary home).

I met Kaitlynn as a reporter during her senior year at Northern High School — just “Northern,” to locals, but I always liked to put “Northern Garrett” in post-game write-ups because I felt some might mistake it for a school in Canada. At the time, I was a brand-new entrepreneur (and soon a failed one) with the Potomac Highlands Dispatch, a digital newspaper that aimed to serve a four-county area in news and sports in western Maryland and West Virginia.

Sports soon became a priority. The area was thirsty for local coverage by a locally owned news outlet that provided timely, accurate and in-depth coverage. Included in the daily coverage offered by the Dispatch were video highlights — something not (yet) added to the lineup here. If a picture’s worth a 1,000 words, these videos were worth a million. Along with video highlights, I made postgame interviews with the coaches and key players of each contest an absolute must. They were a lot of fun; it was new to me and to the players but we all managed to get through it.

An NCAA Division II photo Kaitlynn helps cut down the net after the championship victory.

An NCAA Division II photo
Kaitlynn helps cut down the net after the championship victory.

Not having watched a single game of the 2009-10 season, I had no idea where things stood entering the 2010-11 season. So I put Allegany first in a ranking of nine teams and Northern, if I recall, started out seventh. Fratz led the Huskies to what appeared to be an upset win over Allegany, but it was only a hint of things to come.

Fratz, along with fellow senior and best friend Morgan Brosnihan, Terra McKenzie and a cast of others opponents couldn’t get a handle on, managed to earn their way to the Class 1A state championship game. There, Dunbar whooped up on the western Maryland squad and walked away with an 80-62 victory. It was the last year that her dad, Steve, served as the team’s coach.

As a reporter, I was along for the ride and around midseason realized I was about to witness something special. Though that season remains a wonderful memory for me, professionally as well as personally as I met so many new friends, I didn’t realize how much it meant to me until this past week. Over the past several days, Facebook friends from around the country but all with ties to a tiny town of 325 people have offered words of support to the hometown girl that never let anything get in the way of her goals. Restaurants and schools changed their outdoor signs to wish Kaitlynn good luck. Facebook was flooded with Garret County-generated messages and tags of “Cal Who? Cal U!”

An NCAA Division II photo

An NCAA Division II photo

“All in,” had been a chant of Huskies fans throughout that season. Over the past couple of weeks, it seems clear that no one has ever opted out. And I watched, far from the center of activity. But a few hours before tipoff Friday night in Sioux Falls, Brenda Brosnihan sent me a private message on Facebook. To say the note was unexpected is an understatement.

Hi Kevin,” Brenda wrote. “Our gang is all here at the pregame dinner before Kaitlynn’s national championship game. She has been bombarded with media and handling it like a pro. We credit you for all those interviews their senior year. Your presence and support was so appreciated. This game tonight represents the efforts of so many. You’re part of the story.”

I was the first member of the media to stick a video camera in her face after a high school basketball game, and Kaitlynn handled it very well. She got better as the season wore on, and interviews became routine up through the championship game. To think I had some role, no matter how small, in her development over the years … well, the thought really had never crossed my mind.

Kaitlynn has wonderful parents in Steve and Tracy, and a supporting family and network of friends (Brenda and Pete are at the top of that list) like no one I’ve seen. And I realized over the years it has nothing to do with her skill set on the basketball court. Instead, it is completely built upon a foundation of faith and trust in each other.

An NCAA Division II photo Steve Fratz lifts his daughter shortly after Kaitlynn helped lead the Vulcans to the NCAA Division II national title.

An NCAA Division II photo
Steve Fratz lifts his daughter shortly after Kaitlynn helped lead the Vulcans to the NCAA Division II national title.

I took my daughter, now 13, to see Kaitlynn play at Pitt-Johnstown and Kaitlynn took the time to talk with MacKenzie after the game. Kenzie was, at the time, an aspiring athlete and I wanted to see how much of Kaitlynn could rub off on her. Those of you who know Kenzie now know that she’s left the sports world, but she continues to blaze her own trail — march to the beat of her own drum, if you will — and I applaud it every step of the way.

I have to believe at least a part of that came from watching Kaitlynn play basketball and interact with friends and family. She was never the tallest one in the group, but her personality always stood out above the crowd.

Kaitlynn helped to show so many young boys and girls that to dream big is to win big. Maybe not on a national stage every time. Maybe with no national title on the line in a given year. But with life itself on the line, Kaitlynn will never be afraid to take the shot. And I continue to hope Kenzie keeps that sense of wholeness, warmth and independence Kaitlynn exudes in every ear-to-ear grin.

It’s a message that conveys 450 miles south from western Maryland to south-central North Carolina. As students walk the halls of Ellerbe Middle School or Washington Street Elementary or maybe East Rockingham Elementary, it’s important to remember we’ve had people from right here go on to be successful — world champions in their own right (think Dannell Ellerbe and Dr. Jerry McGee, among others).

Kids, listen up: Your background, who your parents are (and are not) make you who you are. There’s no changing that. In good times, use the support to your advantage to lift yourself up to be a better you. In bad, remember life gets better but only if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to excellence. And if you forget how, find someone like Kaitlynn, from the town of Accident, population 325.

Sports are just that — games. But they provide stage for so much more to happen. Let’s not take the connection for granted, and let’s use it to life up our youth any chance we get.

Kevin Spradlin lives, works and plays in Richmond County. He hopes each of his four children pursue their individual passions and offer their parents as few eyebrow rolls and shoulder shrugs as possible along the way. 

Filed in: Featured News, Latest Headlines, Opinion, Sports

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