The U.S. has its share of famous sports families. In baseball, it’s the Ripkens; in tennis, it’s the Williams sisters; and in football, it’s the Mannings.
In Howard County, it’s the Friersons, the Kraissers and the Langs.
While they may not be as well known (or as highly paid) as their national counterparts, these local families show much of the same dedication, passion and excellence in sports.
They also maintain a strong support system both on and off the field, carrying the lessons they learn through sports into everyday life.
As young children, Nate, Gordie, Lydia and Matt Frierson always had a ball in their hands or at their feet.
“They were all home-schooled through fifth grade, so [physical education] was a big part of their day,” says their mother, Amy Frierson.
Their father, Frick Frierson, assistant headmaster and men’s varsity basketball coach at Chapelgate Christian Academy in Marriottsville, often joined them in their Laurel backyard, playing everything from football and basketball to soccer and baseball. And if Frierson was there, neighborhood children were sure follow, Lydia Frierson says.
“The kids would come to the door and ask, ‘Can Mr. Frick come out and play?’” she says.
That’s because his love of sports is contagious, his children say.
All of the Frierson children played sports at Chapelgate Christian Academy. The oldest, Nate, 21, is a senior at Covenant College in Georgia, where he plays on the school’s basketball team. Gordie, 20, a sophomore, also plays basketball at Columbia International University in South Carolina. Lydia, 19, a freshman at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina, plays on the school’s soccer team. And Matt, 17, a senior guard for the Chapelgate Christian Academy men’s basketball team, will continue playing this fall at The Citadel in South Carolina.
To the Frierson family, sports are “bigger than just competition,” Amy Frierson says. They are a way to express their Christian values.
“Our family purpose is gratitude to God while using athletics, academics and music as ways to be more like Jesus,” Frick Frierson says.
Sports are also a tool to teach principles like perseverance, Lydia Frierson says.
She recalls “120s,” her least favorite soccer fitness test, where she runs 20-second sprints 10 times in a row.
“It would have been easy to quit and give up,” she says. “But I didn’t.”
That perseverance paid off. In her first year playing Division I soccer, Lydia Frierson scored three goals.
She says she remembers that feeling when it comes to schoolwork.
“If you can get through a 120, you can get through an hour of studying,” Lydia often tells herself. “…Everything in sports applies to life.”
For years, Centennial High School wrestling coach Cliff Kraisser has repeated the same words to his seven children: “The harder you work, the better you do.”
When it comes to sports and life, they take his words to heart.
All seven of Cliff and Kerri Kraisser’s children are involved in — and excel at — multiple sports.
The Ellicott City family’s athleticism began with mom and dad, both 1983 Centennial High School graduates. Cliff wrestled throughout high school and college, while Kerri played volleyball in high school and was a college gymnast.
Like their father, brothers Brian, 23, Nathan, 21, Austin, 17, Jason, 15, and Calvin, 9, all wrestle. Nathan, a Centennial graduate and junior at Campbell University in North Carolina, is a four-time state high school champion, while Austin, a Centennial junior, won his first state championship in 2014.
The Kraissers’ daughters, Brandi, 19, and Holli, 12, play volleyball. Brandi is on the Howard Community College volleyball team, and Holli plays for Columbia Volleyball Club. Holli and Calvin also play soccer.
“Sports are fun and healthy activities that teach life lessons, like learning to stick with something even when it’s hard or painful, or the opportunity to learn how to handle a situation when things don’t go your way,” says Kerri Kraisser.
Brandi Kraisser says she applied some of these lessons during her junior year at Centennial High School, when she was cut from the varsity volleyball team.
She played club volleyball throughout the season and spent hours practicing on her own to gain experience and improve her skills.
“The next year, I made the team,” she says. “If it’s a sport you love and enjoy, you don’t give up on it if you have setbacks.”
The Kraissers also say sports have taught them responsibility.
On the front door, the Kraissers post a typed list of equipment organized by sport, reminding them of what they need before leaving the house.
But being a good teammate — their most important lesson — comes not from the field, court or mat. It comes from home, Austin Kraisser says.
“Living in a big family, you learn a lesson: You can’t only think of yourself,” he says. “… We make sure the people who take care of us get taken care of.”
Running is in the Lang family’s blood.
Phil Lang, a 1985 graduate of Oakland Mills High School, and his wife, Vicki, met while running on the Frostburg State University track team.
They began coaching the Oakland Mills High School men’s and women’s cross country teams, respectively, in 1995. The Columbia residents are both active with the Howard County Striders running club, and Phil has run 50 marathons.
When the Langs’ two daughters, Tiffany and Brit, expressed interest in running at a young age, the couple was not surprised.
At age 3, Tiffany Lang remembers that she asked her dad whether she could join him on runs. Initially, they ran loops together around the neighborhood. By age 5, she had joined the Howard County Striders’ junior program.
“From the time I started, I knew running was my main sport,” the now 20-year-old says. “I’m really competitive, and it’s what I was best at.”
Tiffany, a 2012 Oakland Mills graduate, took second in the 2011 state cross country championships for the 5K and second in the 2012 state indoor track championships for the mile. Now a junior at UNC-Charlotte, she runs for the school’s cross country team.
Brit Lang, a 16-year-old Oakland Mills junior, also began running with the Striders’ junior program at 5 years old. She won the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) national championships at ages 9 and 10 for the 3K. In 2012, she became Oakland Mills’ first female runner to win a state cross country title when she ran the 5K in 19 minutes, 21.8 seconds.
While running is often considered an individual sport, Tiffany and Brit say being on the high school cross country team — and being coached by their parents — taught them the importance of being selfless.
“Phil always says, ‘When you start hurting, don’t think of yourself. Think of your teammates,’” Vicki Lang says.
Last fall, Brit remembered these words as she struggled to complete a 5K.
“I was running well, but I was in so much pain,” she says. “The [team] needed the lowest points.”
So Brit kept running. By crossing the finish line, she helped her team qualify for a state cross country meet.
The Langs also encourage their girls to use their competitive spirit in the classroom. Both are members of the National Honor Society.
“Set goals,” Phil Lang says. “Challenge yourself to achieve them and maybe even exceed them.”