Weir High basketball court dedicated to Ron “Fritz” Williams

DEDICATION AT WEIR HIGH — Rayna McDermitt, daughter of the late Ron “Fritz” Williams, cuts the ribbon as the basketball court at Weir High was dedicated to Williams. -- Mike Mathison

WEIRTON — Another of North Weirton’s great athletes, the late Ron “Fritz” Williams, was honored Tuesday night with the naming of the basketball floor inside the Carl R. Hamill Fieldhouse as the Ron “Fritz” Williams Court.

It was an honor befitting the legendary athlete at Weir High.

Williams’ daughter, Rayna McDermitt of San Matao, Calif., was on hand and used large scissors to cut a ribbon commemorating the dedication.

“My dad always talked very highly of Weirton,” said McDermitt, the mother of an eight-year old daughter. “He’s from here, his family is still here and I spent summers here when I was growing up.

“He didn’t talk a lot about his athletic achievements here because he was not one to brag about himself. And that’s one of the traits I always admired about him. After he passed, a lot of the people in California said ‘I didn’t know he did all that’ because he just never talked about it much.

“But they did know that he always came back to Weirton and supported Weirton in any way he could.”

One of the ways that his legacy continues in Weirton is the “Fritz Williams Memorial Scholarship Fund, which gives scholarships to deserving Weir High graduates. A close friend of Williams, William “Ox” Curenton, annually chairs a golf outing to help raise money for the scholarship fund and continues to accept donations at Box 72, Weirton.

John Sorrenti, retired sports broadcaster at WEIR-AM, who broadcast most of the football and basketball games that Williams played at Weir High, gave some recollections of Williams.

“Williams graduated from Weir High in 1964 but they played their home basketball games back then at the Millsop Community Center,” Sorrenti explained. “People came from all over to see Fritz play packing the community center each home game.

“The Red Riders went to the Class AAA state championship game three straight years winning the title in 1963, Fritz’s junior year. Weir High had a three-year record of 62-8 with Williams leading the way averaging more than 30 points a game as a junior and senior.

“In the 1964 state championship game, the Red Riders lost. Local radio stations are not permitted to broadcast and must take the state feed, but I went to the game sitting in the stands. When the game was over, I saw Fritz go to the sideline where his parents were seated and put his head in his mother’s lap and cried.

“He wasn’t crying for himself. He was crying for Weir High and the city of Weirton. He’s the king of basketball here and this is a momentous night.”

Williams was a great three-sports star at Weir High playing football, basketball and track. He earned 11 varsity letters and was West Virginia first team all-state in football and basketball.

He was such a great athlete that after the 6-3, 185-pounder graduated from WVU, he was a late round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL even though he hadn’t played football in four years..

Sorrenti noted that Williams was the first African-American in history to be recruited to play basketball at West Virginia University. He was all-American at WVU and was chosen by the San Francisco Warriors in the first round of the 1969 NBA draft — the ninth player selected overall. He also played for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers in his NBA career.

The event brought up the question about how Ron Williams, who grew up on Sixth Street and Avenue A in North Weirton, got his nickname.

Vince Gilliam, who lived across the street from Williams on Avenue A, said that even as a youngster Williams was so good that he always played basketball with the older kids on the playgrounds.

“I know that it was Billy Farr that named him “Fritz,” but I don’t know exactly what it meant,” Gilliam said. “I played for Weir High in the years right after “Fritz” graduated. I was just talking to Ron Taflan reflecting on the whippings we took after Fritz graduated.

“The players on the other teams would say: ‘you don’t have “Fritz” Williams now and they would really put it on us.”

One of Williams’ Weir High teammates, Alvin Woodbury, was introduced. There were several others at the game such as Weir High’s current basketball scoreboard operator, Ken Lahr, who commented that he was Williams’ backup on the team so he didn’t get to play very much.

Dan Enich, former Weir High principal, who along with current Red Rider basketball coach Mike Granato was instrumental in making Tuesday night’s ceremonies happen, said: “Now Ron “Fritz” Williams will forever be a part of the field house in a much deserved lasting legacy at Weir High School.”

Granato and Enich presented McDermitt with a plaque and basketball as mementos.

“This is a huge honor for myself and my brother,” Mrs. McDermitt told the large crowd. “Thank you. It is great to be here to hear all the stories about my dad.”

Williams’ son, Aaron, who lives in California but was unable to make the trip, was a high school basketball star like his father. He played college basketball at Iona and Notre Dame, a small college in Menlo, Calif., Aaron is the father of two daughters.


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