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This piece has been edited after more information from an anonymous source was received.
On February 2, local police arrested former USA Climbing National team member Alex Fritz on three charges of third-degree child rape.
Fritz, 28, had been coaching and route setting at Vertical World in Redmond, Washington. He is accused of having sexual interactions with athletes as young as 15 years old in the U.S. and Canada.
Fritz had been under investigation by SafeSport, a federally mandated organization for investigating cases of sexual assault in sport. On February 2, 2021, a SafeSport investigator contacted detective Marshall Tolbert of the Redmond Police Department regarding Fritz’s involvement with minors. Because the activity involved crossing state and country borders, Tolbert sent the case to the FBI for consideration. He then worked with the FBI, conducting interviews with athletes, parents, and a manager at a climbing gym.
A year later, Redmond police arrested Fritz. He is currently being held at Snohomish County jail in Washington on a $500,000 bail.
According to the Redmond police report, Fritz was exceptionally talented at manipulating and grooming the victims, their families, and other coaches and teammates. He had competed on Team USA, participating in international competitions from 2009 to 2012. He served as an apprentice coach for the National Team for Youth World Championships and Pan-American Championships between 2013 and 2018. He was on the USA Climbing Coaches Committee from 2018 to December 2020, and served as the alternate for the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee Athletes Advisory Council.
Climbing reached out to Marc Norman, CEO of USA Climbing, to better understand how to prevent this from happening in the future. The interview, edited for length, is below.
Climbing: Firstly, what should parents, coaches, and other athletes do to help prevent this from happening in the future? What steps should they follow if they suspect a child may be in danger?
Norman: First, all participants, including parents, athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, etc., should ensure they are aware of the U.S. Center for SafeSport (“Center”) Code and Policies, including the Minor Athlete Abuse Prevention Policy (MAAPP), take any and all training courses (even if not required), and also be aware of any additional USA Climbing Athlete Safety policies. Then, USA Climbing, gyms, teams, parents, athletes, etc., as a community, must collectively remain vigilant in enforcing the Center’s Code and Policies to protect our members and report any suspected abuse immediately.
Should someone suspect a child or other participant is in danger, they should immediately report the concern as outlined above. The most common question we hear is, “I heard this rumor,” or “this athlete is uncomfortable with another person, but it seems very minor, should I report it?” The answer on whether to report, even if one is not sure what is going on, is yes. Always err on the side of protecting all participants, especially youth.
USA Climbing is federally mandated to abide by the Center’s Policies and Procedures, as well as to provide education for the USA Climbing membership. While the Center has exclusive jurisdiction for all incidents of sexual misconduct and child abuse within the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic movement, we all have responsibility to identify and report potential misconduct promptly. The Center also accepts reports of emotional and physical misconduct, including but not limited to bullying, hazing, stalking, and harassment. The Center’s Code contains no statute of limitations on reporting claims of abuse.
If there is concern that a criminal act has occurred, please immediately report the incident to your local law enforcement as well. The Center’s jurisdiction is to remove these individuals from the Olympic and Paralympic movement. Law enforcement’s role is to hold them legally accountable. However, when the report comes into USA Climbing or the U.S. Center for SafeSport, if a criminal act is suspected, it will be reported to local law enforcement then as well.
Climbing: What steps is USAC taking to help prevent this from happening again?
Norman: Education and training are key to preventing misconduct from happening in the first place. Continuing to raise awareness for identifying and reporting potential misconduct early is the number one thing USA Climbing and our gym partners, teams, parents, volunteers, etc. can do to prevent this from happening again. In addition, USA Climbing is continuing to implement additional policies and procedures, including launching a new team certification program.