Mark Altstaetter: Holly influenced many

Longtime Shawnee cross country and track-and-field coach Russ Holly touched many lives over the years.

Whether it was cross country season in the fall or track-and-field during the spring, Holly was always present with his infectious smile, supporting not only his Shawnee athletes, but the opposing athletes as well.

It would be safe to say that Holly was a fixture at Shawnee, as well as in the Western Buckeye League.

This past week, Holly passed away at the age of 76.

Holly was the head cross country coach for boys and girls at Shawnee for the past 29 years, and was presently an assistant track coach, after being the head track coach at Shawnee for 21 years. Holly briefly coached at the junior high level in his early days at Shawnee. He coached at Botkins, before coming to Shawnee.

Holly also influenced many people outside of coaching these two sports.

Along with being a longtime cross country and track coach at Shawnee, Holly was a motorcycle Ohio safety instructor for 25 years. He was a life member of the American Motorcycle Association, and the Motorcycle Sport and Touring Association.

Holly was a track and cross country official for many years. He was the girls head basketball coach at Shawnee from 1981-1985.

Holly was a member of the Allen County Retired Teachers, retiring from Shawnee Schools. He was a Shawnee Township trustee for more than 16 years. He was a member of Cridersville United Methodist Church.

However, a lot of people simply called him “Coach Holly”.

Holly was always quick to compliment an athlete. However, he also demanded his athletes to perform to the best of their abilities.

As a former cross country coach, myself, I can remember countless times Holly would go out of his way to greet me and ask how things were going. He also would spend time, reminiscing about the past. You could see the passion he had for coaching as he would smile from ear to ear, while telling these stories.

As a reporter for The Lima News, I was always impressed at how Holly would praise not only his top runners, but others on his team that showed improvement on that day. He genuinely cared for his athletes.

You could see the respect from his athletes by the way they competed and how much his team improved throughout the season and postseason. He had a way of motivating his teams.

Most recently, at last year’s state cross country meet, the Shawnee girls team placed 14th in Division II. On the boys side, Noah Williams competed as an individual in Division I, where he finished 30th overall for Shawnee.

I was always amazed on how many student-athletes came out for cross country and track at Shawnee. He built a “culture” at Shawnee.

In my early days of coaching cross country, I can remember Coach Holly making a point to congratulate me or give me some words of encouragement, no matter how his team performed. And he always did it with a smile, a hand shake and a pat on the back.

He was truly a class act. He was a coach that any parent would want their child to compete for.

Coach Holly was all about having a team concept.

“Pack running” was a strategy he emphasized to his cross country teams. He knew that to be successful as a team, his runners needed to run as a tight-knit group. His teams tended to do this quite well over the years.

Moving forward, it might seem a little odd not seeing Coach Holly standing near the track this spring or roaming the cross country courses in the fall. Over the years, his presence was well-known whenever Shawnee was competing.

But for now on, I’m certain that each time a Shawnee runner toes the starting line, Holly’s presence will still be felt.

With the impact Holly made, he certainly will not be forgotten.