If you’ve been to a Free State High football game, you certainly noticed the stately stone structure in the south end zone.
Contained within are a locker room for the Firebirds and one for visitors, a concession area, rest rooms, a training room and an equipment room.
And that’s just on the first floor.
Upstairs are offices, coaches locker rooms and a film room, plus a couple of outdoor patios on the east and west side that may or may not be used for future expansion.
Those who have toured the structure are justifiably awed by its assimilation of form and function, its added touches such as polished granite seating in front of the Firebirds’ lockers and its aura of permanence.
Then there is the landscaping. All of the 20 or more surrounding trees appear to be at least 10 years old, and they make you feel the complex has been there for decades even though you know it’s brand-new.
I asked Free State High football coach Bob Lisher what the price tag was for this Taj Mahal of high school athletic facilities.
“I have no idea what this building cost,” Lisher replied, “but with the landscaping and everything I’m sure it’s over a million dollars.”
Let’s backtrack a bit. When the school district came up with the money to build identical sports facilities for both Free State and Lawrence High, a bare-bones total of $400,000 was allotted to each school for the purpose of erecting rest rooms and concession stands at their football fields.
However, in mid-July, the school board announced that Free State High would have a larger, multi-use complex because a donor was willing to cover the added construction costs over the 400 grand.
On one condition. The donor had to remain anonymous.
So if you ask school personnel — and that includes Lisher — who gave all that money, you’ll receive a smile and a no comment, or words to that effect.
Nevertheless, there is a clue on the outside of the structure. It’s a small plaque that reads: “In memory of John Valentine Fritzel. 1913-1977.”
Another clue is inside, also next to the door. It’s an 8 x 11 black-and-white photo of John Fritzel when he was captain of the Lawrence High football team in 1931.
I knew John Fritzel. I knew him because he was married to Dorothy Fritzel who for many years was secretary to Dolph Simons and Dolph Simons Jr., longtime editors and publishers of the Journal-World.
I also knew that John and Dorothy — by the way, she’s still spry at age 94 — had no children, but that he was the uncle of Gene and Joel Fritzel, contractors known for their high-end homes and buildings in and around Lawrence.
So that narrowed the probe.
It is also widely known that Gene Fritzel Construction is now run by Gene’s sons and that two of those sons — Thomas and Andy — have sons of their own who are juniors on the Free State High football team.
So it’s pretty clear the Fritzels are the primary benefactors, but I do know they didn’t provide all the funding. The building’s wiring, for instance, was done gratis by Mel Lisher and Mel Lisher Jr.
Yes, they’re Bob Lisher’s dad and older brother, respectively.