Is it possible to be more than just a man? Is it possible to be the embodiment of an entire team, college and community? If it is, Ed Fry is the embodiment of all those things.
IUP and the entire Indiana community lost someone truly special with the passing of Ed Fry.
On Oct. 3, Fry passed away at his home in Somerset at the age of 80. Fry has left a lasting impact on this community that will not ever be forgotten. Fry came onto the scene at the university in 1966 when he accepted a teaching position with IUP.
Growing up in McKeesport, Pa., Fry had surprisingly never heard of IUP. Shortly after his hiring, Fry took on the job of becoming a coach for the men’s cross country and track and field teams at different capacities.
Before his career at IUP, Fry attended St. Peter’s High School where they did not have athletic programs at the school. After high school, Fry went to Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, with a childhood friend.
While there, he joined the cross country team and shortly developed an affinity and a passion for the sport that would lead him down a life of unimaginable opportunity and blessings.
After an injury riddled sophomore year at Loras, he transferred to DePaul University where he soon found success with their cross country program. Fry was so skilled; he was able to win his first race at the university and soon after received a full scholarship from his first performance.
As an athlete, he was able to perform at a dominant level where he was able to have an undefeated senior year in 1962.
Despite having little background in the sport, Fry wanted to become involved and give back to others the joy he got from running.
“I learned a lot from training and running,” said Fry in a 2010 interview, “I figured I could pass those things on.”
Fry started with a small cross country program that only consisted of four members when he was hired. Fry worked tirelessly at recruiting and was able to bring people in with his almost infectious presence.
“He had this presence that you couldn’t describe,” said alumnus Sean Strauman. Because of this presence, Fry was able to build a program that was deep with runners and became a powerhouse cross country program in just less than a decade.
Fry was able to get the most out of his athletes, and that showed in the results the team was able to get. Between 1972-83, the men’s cross country team won five Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) titles.
What is even more impressive, and speaks to Fry’s beautiful character, Fry was doing all of this for free. He was only paid once he created the IUP Women’s Cross Country team. Athletic Director Ruth Podbielski hired Fry as the coach for the new women’s program, and Fry was able to be compensated for the countless hours of hard work and dedication to his athletes.
Under his guidance, the women’s team won seven PSAC championships between 1980-90. He fulfilled his roles with the teams along with helping other programs within the department as well.
Fry was rewarded with being inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Furthermore, the community wanted to recognize his impact on the community and named the newly built basketball complex the Ed Fry Arena.
At the end of the day, Fry led a career of success and accomplishments that span a period of 43 years at IUP. Even among all the accolades and achievements, Fry leaves behind one thing that will carry on his legacy for years to come: unbreakable bonds with his athletes.
Fry was only able to have so much success because of his unyielding passion and dedication to his athletes. Fry saw these students as so much more than athletes. He knew that at the end of the day, “It wasn’t win at all cost, but do the best you can,” as Fry so eloquently stated years ago.
This philosophy was obvious to everyone around Fry. Former coach Bob Raemore coached alongside Fry for years and was able to speak to his character before his hall of fame induction.
“He was always thinking about the athletes,” Raemore said. “It was always about the kids. It was never about him. He was not concerned with the won-loss record or coach of this or coach of that awards. He wanted to see the kids getting better, regardless of what place that meant.
“He was intense. Everybody always knew he was intense, but not like basketball coaches, and never like football coaches. He was calm. He was always kind of in tune with his athletes, and they always had a plan. They knew what they wanted to do. He had a plan, and he just tried to stick by it. But not all plans work out.”
Strauman knew about this all too well. He had an outstanding IUP career in track and field and won a national title in the 800-meter race in 2008.
Strauman accredited his win to Fry and Dr. Raemore. He was one of the athletes that was lucky enough to truly have their lives touched by a man who made a difference to so many in during his time with the Indiana community.
“Being a professor, he was so involved with student life. He had their best interests at heart,” Strauman said.
"He came to practice every day with an infectious smile, a positive attitude and an unwavering commitment to making each of us better. Regardless of talent level, coach valued you as a person and as a contributor to the program,” former track and field/cross country athlete Brett Halter said in a press release by the IUP athletic department on Oct. 6.
“Ed was more than a coach; he was a friend, a motivator and there was never any doubt when I got married in 1981, I asked him to be my best man, “ former track and field/cross country athlete Mike Higgins said in a press release by the IUP athletic department on Oct. 6.
Fry was able to make connections that lasted decades and will allow his legacy to live on forever.
“Coach Fry was a guiding force that touched countless lives, including mine, through years of education and coaching,” former track and field/cross country runner Chad Hurley said in the Oct. 6 IUP athletics press release.
Fry had a way of connecting with his athletes in a way that many could not to put into words. One of the biggest reasons Fry was able to have success, and help countless others achieve success was the fact that he experienced all the good moments, the bad moments, and everything in between.
“Ed would always tell me it was a four-year process, and I needed to believe in the system,” Strauman said. “One time I didn’t have a great race he told me that I just needed to shake it off, and we were gonna get back to work.”
Fry was there for his athletes on and off the track. Even long after their careers at IUP, these athletes “Spend the rest of their lives missing, "described Strauman.
Fry was an individual who was down-to-earth and never got caught up in his own headlines or titles. Fry always pushed away credit for his work with his athletes.
Even at his hall of fame induction, Fry remained true to himself. “I appreciate all the athletes in this county, and there’s a great history,” he said, “and I’m just humbled to be a part of it.”
Even in one of his interviews with the Indiana Gazette in 2010, Fry did not want to have a traditional interview with writer Mirza Zukic.
Instead, he wanted to play disc golf with Zukic in order to be able to get to know him and be able to talk to him.
“He pushed away all the credit,” said Strauman. “He did this, and it made the rest of us want to emulate his selflessness.”
It takes someone with outstanding character to push away credit. Especially when someone like Fry accomplished the things he did at the heights that he had to.
No one would have questioned if he had a right to take credit for this. Fry built a program from nothing, all while doing it for free for almost a decade.
Even with all that, he still remained humble. It was as he said years ago, and as his former athletes say now: it was about the athlete first, winning later.
Even with the history of winning and all the memories and momentous occasions, the things that athletes seem to think of first are small moments with Fry.
“He loved playing cards. He was always playing with us,” said Strauman. “After practice or on the bus, he loved passing the time with us and we would play card games with him for hours.”
Memories like this speak to who Fry was as an individual. He wasn’t just a coach to these athletes. He was a role model, no even more than that: a friend.
Fry has had 80 years to build meaningful friendships that span generations and locations. Even someone as accomplished as YouTube co-founder and IUP graduate Chad Hurley will always remember the times and memories that Fry had built with him.
His name will continue to live on forever. Fry’s name has become synonymous with the track and field and cross country programs. He was so beloved that the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex (KCAC) dedicated their arena to him and named it after him in his honor.
When a man is able to do so much in so little time, it truly speaks volume to the amazing character that they exude to others. Fry leaves behind not just his name, but a legacy that means so much more to the people whose lives he touched and his family.
Athlete, coach, champion, winner, family man, mentor, role-model, humble, and so many more words are what can be used to describe Ed Fry.
But no words can describe what he meant to this community. Fry leaves behind hundreds of people who he has impacted so deeply. They are able to remember and speak so brightly on the times and memories they had with their coach.
The entire IUP and Indiana community mourns the loss of one truly special individual who will not soon be forgotten.
To the Fry family and all those whose lives he has touched, I and everyone at The Penn, give our deepest condolences.
Fry may be gone, but he will always live on in the lives of all those he came to know and love.