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Fame catches up with Hawken swim coach
Fame catches up with Hawken swim coach
By TONY LANGE
Joined by Olympians and professional athletes, Jerry Holtrey is among eight sports figures set to be inducted into the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame on Sept. 22.
Holtrey moved to Northeast Ohio from Kentucky and began coaching the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins age-group swim team in the summer of 1967. In 1969, he started coaching at Hawken School, where his girls' team currently has won 13 straight Division II state championships and 21 titles overall. Combined, his girls' and boys' teams have won 45 district titles.
Being inducted with seven other sports figures is a great honor, and it's a little overwhelming, Holtrey said of the 2011 hall of fame class, which includes Major League Baseball player and Indians broadcaster Mike Hegan, 1996 Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Dominique Moceanu and Cleveland Browns Pro Bowler Bob Golic.
"I'm looking forward to the dinner and listening to all the others talk about their activities that they've been involved in to get invited in," Holtrey said. "It's my honor and privilege to be there and to be inducted with all these outstanding people that are going to be inducted."
Before coaching and coming to Cleveland, Holtrey was first introduced to swimming by his older brother, George, whom he looked up to, he said.
When Holtrey was about 9 or 10 years old, he asked George if he could go along with him and watch him swim at the Huntington YMCA in Indiana. The coach, Glenn Hummer, asked Jerry Holtrey to join the team.
"The coach says, 'Well, you want to try it?' and I said, 'Well, I don't know if I'm good enough.' He said, 'Well, we'll teach you everything you have to know,'" Holtrey said, recalling the experience.
Hummer, who swam at the University of Illinois, always produced outstanding teams at the Huntington YMCA, Holtrey said.
Holtrey, his brother, George, and a guy by the name of Bill Shriner swam in the national open water four-mile championships, winning the event for three straight summers and becoming three-time AAU All-Americans, Holtrey said. And, during Holtrey's senior year at Huntington High School, his team won the national YMCA championships.
"From that point on, I was hooked, and I always used Glenn Hummer as sort of a model, because he was a fine man and had high moral standards and had excellent principles that he preached to us all the time, and I guess it just rubbed off on me, and I wanted to be a coach," Holtrey said.
After a couple of years at the University of Michigan, Holtrey transferred to Indiana University and swam for James "Doc" Counsilman, who is known for winning six consecutive NCAA men's swimming and diving championships (1968-1973), along with 20 consecutive (1961-1980) and 23 total Big Ten Conference titles during his tenure at Indiana from 1957-90.
Counsilman also coached more than 60 Olympic swimmers, including Mark Spitz -- the guy who won seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Counsilman coached the men's U.S.A. swimming team at the 1964 Olympics, when the American men won nine of 11 events, and at the 1976 Olympics, when the U.S. men won 12 of 13 events.
"I swam for him for three years while he was just becoming one of the best well-known college coaches," Holtrey said. "He was probably the most knowledgeable coach, because he had his Ph.D. in physiology, and so he was very scientific in his approach to swimming."
After college, Holtrey coached at a private club for a couple of years in Fort Wayne, Ind., not far from Huntington, and then got his next job in Ashland, Ky., at a high school where he started a new competitive age-group team.
During that time, Ron Johnson ran the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins program. Johnson was recruited to coach the Mexican Olympic team and at that point asked Holtrey if he would be interested in taking over the team.
"I wasn't real sure because everything was going real well down in Kentucky, and so I said, 'Unless I am one of the top two or three being considered, I don't want to waste your time or my time,'" Holtrey said.
When informed he was a top choice, Holtrey came to Cleveland, interviewed for the job, was offered the job and accepted, he said.
Upon taking the LESD coaching position in the summer of 1967 and throughout the past 44 years, Holtrey has always believed that the idea of coaching is having the responsibility of developing every single member of the team to the best of their ability, No. 1, he said. And, No. 2, he wants to make sure every swimmer has a good sound endurance base that he or she can build on.
"I wanted everyone to know how to do all four strokes very well, and I was very demanding. I wanted to make sure that they worked for their ability level," Holtrey said.
Throughout the years, Holtrey has done a lot of yelling and a lot of patting on the back, he said.
"You have to adjust your coaching to what the individual is like. Some individuals need to be patted on the back. Some individuals need to be yelled at. And some need to be kicked in the rear end," Holtrey said. "You have to be smart enough to know how to get through to each one. That and plus the fact that I wanted to make sure I talked to every single boy and girl every single practice, which gave them the idea that I was interested in them, which I was."
After two years of coaching LESD, Holtrey started coaching at Hawken School and teaching there as well. Each job complemented each other, he said. Certain days as a teacher things would go right, and then he'd have an extraordinarily smooth practice in the pool for coaching, he said, and other days it was vice versa.
"When both are great in the classroom and in the pool, then you have a fantastic day, and you're walking out on cloud nine," Holtrey said. "I think anytime you're a teacher or a coach, you have the responsibility of being the very best teacher or coach you possibly can and then to be a role model for the young people that you are teaching or coaching. And I've always taken that responsibility very seriously."
Over the years and before retiring from teaching two years ago, Holtrey served as chairman of the athletic physical education at Hawken School for 20 years, as well as athletic director at the lower school.
"I like to be busy all the time, he said. "I look back and can't believe I was able to teach and coach and have a family life and get them all in, in a 24-hour period, because even now when I'm not teaching. I still do a lot of coaching, and it's just I'm busy with doing something almost all the time."
His three daughters, two who swam from him and one who managed the high school team, and his wife have made it all possible, Holtrey said.
"I've got a family that has been so supportive of me with a wife that is second to none," he said. "She is the person that has kept me going all these years. And without her, I couldn't have continued. No doubt about it. She is one in a million. I couldn't have done it without her."
Enjoying every minute of it, Holtrey said, he hopes to continue coaching for a number of years.
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