Saturday, January 22, 2000

Injured student returns to cheers

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brad Fritz receives a standing ovation at CovCath basketballl game.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        COVINGTON — There he sat, mid-court, the guy so many people thought might never make it. The miracle all of Covington Catholic High School prayed for rolled into the gym Friday night to watch a couple of basketball games.

        A pretty ordinary thing — unless you're Brad Fritz, the honors student and football player who has spent the last four months in a hospital bed trying to come back from a brain injury severe enough to rob him of his speech, short-term memory and ability to walk.

        He has a long way to go. He can do algebra but can't remember his Christmas presents. He has no trouble thinking out complex sentences, but can't write them. He types dialogue from his favorite movie, Big Daddy, on a computer, but can't say the lines very well.

Good to be back
        But those concerns disappeared for a while Friday night. The 15-year-old sophomore was back, in a ball cap and new tennis shoes, where he belongs. Back at the place where he is prayed for every morning, where friends drew countless pictures to decorate his hospital room, where his family continues to draw support.

        Brad was hurt Sept. 18 when a car driven by a friend rammed a tree in Highland Cemetery, Fort Mitchell. The friend, now 16, faces possible indictment by a grand jury for on charges of assault and taking the car without permission. Police say he was driving too fast and had been drinking.

        Since the wreck, Brad's mom and dad, Peggy and Don, have been at his side every day. This time, they stood back and watched their youngest son have his coming-out party. Brad didn't think his presence at the game would draw much attention.


        He was surrounded immediately by fellow students. Friends high-fived him. Parents came over to talk. Teachers, too. Players came out of the locker room, some half-dressed, to greet him.

School's biggest fan
        He sat where he chose — in the really ugly flowered rocking chair reserved for a specially chosen Fan of the Game. Grandmas have sat there on big birthdays.

        Students spent Friday reinforcing the chair's wooden platform so it wouldn't fall

        when they hoisted Brad up into it.

        Brad was worried about going out in public without all of his teeth — three got knocked out in the wreck. Nobody seemed to notice.

        For the Fritzes, the appearance marked the beginning of Brad's re-entry into the world. They expect to bring him home to Crestview Hills for good next Friday. He'll continue daily therapy at Children's Hospital, but there's already talk of trying to get him back into a class or two in a few weeks. Brad impressed the Children's teacher by easily recalling the square root of 121 — 11.

Classmates cooperate
        The students were well-prepared by their teachers about what Brad would look like, about how much he wouldn't be able to say or do.

        “We talked about it in class,” said Al Hertsenberg, a teacher and coach who keeps supporters apprised of Brad's progress through a growing e-mail network. “They wanted to see him. They wanted to have him here.”

        Brad's girlfriend, Jennifer Pettibone, sat next to him. She asked if he was having fun.

        “Definitely,” he typed. “It's good to be back.”


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