Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation

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Adam Holman

Holman blazed a trail

Sixth of a series...

By CHRIS LARICK
Staff Writer

When Adam Holman was growing up in the late 1940s and the early and mid-1950s in rural southeastern Missouri, opportunities for young African Americans in a lot of areas, including athletics, were difficult to come by.

Holman felt the scourge of prejudice and segregation. In fact, as a result of the Supreme Court's landmark decision in 1954 that ended the policy of separate, but equal schools in Brown vs. Topeka (Kan.) Board of Education, he was placed at the forefront of history in his community as one of seven black students be a part of integration at Charleston High School near his home in Wyatt, Mo.

At least in part because of his experiences as a high school student in such trying times in our nation's history, and moving to Ashtabula after his graduation from Lincoln University, Holman gradually gravitated into a career as an educator himself. Even before he began teaching in the Ashtabula Area City Schools in 1967, he was working as an official for youth basketball.

Once he got into teaching at West Junior High and Ashtabula High School, Holman really dove into helping children. He spent most of his career coaching junior high boys basketball, but even served a brief stint as girls varsity basketball coach and an assistant at the high school with freshman and junior varsity boys. Even after his retirement from teaching in 2002, he spent time as a volunteer for the Lakeside High School boys program.

Even more important, though, was the nearly two decades he spent as Ashtabula High School athletic director. He made sure that not only students from Ashtabula High School and adults who used it for city recreation basketball had access to the fine court at Ball Gymnasium, but that it was utilized by high school players from throughout the area as a site for many years for sectional basketball tournaments.

It also served as the home for the Star Beacon Senior Classic from its inception in the late 1970s until it moved to the facilities at the new Lakeside High School in 2007. Had Holman not been willing to make Ball Gymnasium available at no charge, there might never have been such an event.

Even now, at age 72, Holman keeps plugging away, trying to give guidance to Ashtabula's young people. He still takes time for substitute teaching. He still can be found driving around town, delivering job applications for one person, giving a wave and a cheery greeting to nearly everyone he meets and even wagging a finger of warning and giving a stern look to someone he feels is heading for trouble.

"My life has been dedicated to helping young people have good lifetime experiences," he said. "A lot of people have called me their father (even though he has two children of his own). I take that seriously."

All those factors are reasons why Holman has been selected into the 2008 class of the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame. He will be inducted April 6.

"I feel great about going into the hall of fame," he said. "I've read and discussed many of the people who have gone into it, and I'm proud to be a part of it with them."

Those that know Holman say he indeed takes helping young people seriously. Even those he may have occasionally locked horns with have ultimately come to respect and understand his stances. They know he has had the best interests of area children at heart.

"Adam and I had occasion to work with each other a lot because we were both working in the same school system," retired Harbor coach and athletic director Ed Armstrong, who will join him in the ACBF Hall of Fame this year, said. "At the same time, we realized that we were trying to do what was best for the kids at our own schools.

"I think Adam and I had a good working relationship over the years. I know he was dedicated to working with kids. I think any of us who have been in athletics understand that. He did a great job for kids."

Don Cannell had the chance to work with Holman in his capacity as athletic director at St. John. He developed an abiding respect for Holman, too.

"Adam has always been first class," he said. "He's just a great person. We always got along very well.

"(St. John) used to rent Guarnieri Field from Ashtabula for football, and Adam always went out of his way to cooperate with us. It's all about kids for him."

Denny Berrier, another person of note at St. John as a player and coach, actually started out his teaching and coaching career working with Holman. He always appreciated Holman's approach to life.

"With Adam, there was never a bad day," he said. "If he was down, you never knew it.

"I got to work with him my first year of teaching when I was at Ashtabula. I got to know him even better when we played baseball together for Acme Scrap. He was always interested in kids, and they followed him around like he was the Pied Piper."

The early years

Basketball became a passion for Holman when he was in elementary school.

"One of the teachers brought a ball to school," he said. "We erected a hoop out in the yard and we'd play outside in the snow and ice. I think that's why I liked basketball more when I got older because we were inside and we were warm. In April, when it got warmer, we'd play against other neighborhood school."

Holman also developed a love for the game listening to radio broadcasts, since there was no television in his home.

"I remember listening to the Michigan games when Ron Kramer (who became a standout offensive lineman for Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers) played," he said. "That inspired me."

He started out in high school in Wyatt.

"When I entered high school, my coach was a man named Louis Davis," Holman said. "He was from Memphis. I got to play in the sectional tournament when I was a freshman. When I was put in, I started shooting and everything seemed to unconsciously go in.

"He taught us that if you wanted something, you had to work hard to get it. You didn't talk back to officials. He taught us good defense, concentration, jumping skills and how to box out."

But it was quickly decided Holman would be a part of the group that was transferred to Charleston High School. His skill as a basketball and baseball player probably was a big factor in his selection as one of the seven students to integrate Charleston for the 1954-55 school year. He was fortunate to have an understanding coach there.

"My coach there was a man named Mr. Bowner," Holman said. "He was a white man. I made the varsity with my friend, Jerome Price. He was so close to us. I think he protected us."

An example of Bowner's brand of discipline was borne out in a game against nearby Sikeston High.

"He told us that every time we missed a layup, we'd get a swat," Holman said. "I got five swats at halftime, but most of the other guys got a lot more.

"He emphasized a lot of the same things Coach Davis did. He believed in always hustling and hard work. He'd always say, ‘ A winner never quits and a quitter never wins.'"

The philosophies Davis and Bowner laid out were just a reinforcement of those emphasized at home by Holman's father, Abraham.

"My father really believed in discipline, too," he said. "He disciplined me from the word go."

Apparently, those lessons made enough of an impression on the youngster that he worked hard enough to earn a basketball scholarship to Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.

"I had to have a scholarship because I couldn't afford to go to college otherwise," Holman said. "I made the varsity team, but it was like 12 hours away from home," he said. "I ended up transferring to Lincoln, which was in Jefferson City, about 180 miles from home because they had more funding there and a better program.

"It was a good program. We ended up playing schools like Tennessee State, which had (future New York Knick standout) Dick Barnett."

Holman finished his degree from Lincoln in 1962, then headed to Ashtabula County.

In Ohio

He had actually been to Ashtabula as a teenager, working a summer job on the railroad with his older brother, Elijah. He kept coming back for summers after that.

"I came here for the first time in 1951 when I was about 14," Holman said.

In 1958, after finishing his first year at Tuskegee, he got into a basketball league that played in Orwell against some of the top area players like future ACBF Hall of Famers Harvey Hunt and Al Bailey. After one of the games, he met his future bride for the first time.

"Betty was up here from Mississippi visiting and came down to watch the games," he said. "Some of the other people in the stands asked her if she'd like to meet me and they introduced us. We were married in 1959.

"Betty has been a tremendous part of everything I've ever done around here. She's a wonderful wife. I'm glad basketball brought us together."

The Holmans have two children — Reginald, who lives in Washington, D.C., and RoLesia, who resides in North Carolina. They have one grandchild, Porcha.

Holman returned to Missouri each year after he and Betty were married, but she stayed in Ashtabula. After graduation from Lincoln, he came back to Ashtabula County for good.

For the first few years after he took permanent residence in the county, Holman worked other jobs, first with Rockwell Brake, then with the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co.

"Ange Candela (another ACBF Hall of Famer) knew I had a degree and kept after me to teach, but I put him off until 1967," he said. "One day, I was up on a pole (for) and I almost electrocuted myself. My supervisor was on the ground below and told me I was staying on the ground from then on. I called (Candela) and told him I'd take him up on his job offer. I was substitute teaching the next day."

In the classroom

Holman worked to get his teaching certificate, which he earned in time to start the 1968-69 school year.

"I taught Ohio history and math at West," he said. "When the basketball job came open, I took it, too. I was fortunate to work with Mr. Candela and Frank Farello, who was the principal. I really respected them and had a good working relationship with them. I owe a lot to both of them."

Holman never believed in cutting players, so he often had 25 players on his eighth-grade teams.

"Most games, almost everybody got to play," he said of his time with the Pumas from 1968-71.

Holman always pointed for two opponents in particular during his coaching career.

"I always used to really prepare for Geneva and Conneaut," he said. "They had really good players and always tried to stress winning. It was great competition. Anytime we beat Conneaut or Geneva, I felt really good."

Then he moved up to serve as Bob Walters' JV coach at Ashtabula, a job he held for a decade.

"At one time, we went 52-0," he said. "I think we ended up losing to Riverside."

He also became close to future Panther standouts like future ACBF Hall of Famer Tom Hill, Eugene Miller, Lou Murphy and Charles Moore.

"I knew Tom Hill was going to be one of our best leaders coming up to the high school," Holman said. "I took him and several other players to the state tournament and we saw Columbus East play. I asked him if he thought we could beat them, and he said nobody could beat us. I think he went back and helped prepare himself for the next year."

That led to Ashtabula's great 1977-78 season, a year in which they nearly defeated future Ohio State and NBA star Clark Kellogg and his St. Joseph Vikings.

"We would have won that game if David Benton hadn't got hurt," Holman said.

The AD

By the time he moved up to the JV job, Holman was also balancing duties as the Ashtabula athletic director. That's when he and Star Beacon sports Darrell Lowe got together on starting the Star Beacon Senior Classic.

"I was tired of kids from our area not getting any recognition," Holman said. "All the kids in Cleveland were getting it. I had talked to (NEC secretary and future ACBF Hall of Famer) Ed Batanian about starting an all-star game, but he was too busy.

"Then Darrell Lowe came over and started talking about starting an all-star game. I was glad to do it because I felt kids out here deserved recognition, too."

At the same time, Holman was trying to mix in officiating wherever he could.

"I officiated basketball for 30 years," he said. "I did it because no African-Americans were involved and I felt I should set an example. I didn't go into it big time because I didn't want to neglect my duties as AD.

"I felt I could be fair and do a good job of controlling the game. Officiating is a lot more than calling fouls. It's an example of what life is going to be like. I never officiated varsity basketball. I did give (noted area official) Phil Garcia his first varsity job."

Love and basketball

After his time as athletic director ended, Holman's love for basketball returned him to coaching at West and continued to mold successful teams. He has maintained his involvement in various coaching roles since with Lakeside.

Even though he had opportunities in other sports, including a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates in the early 1960s, basketball has remained uppermost in his life.

"Basketball has meant everything to me," he said. "I tried to be a disciplinarian as a coach, teaching the kids that discipline needs to be a part of all of them.

"Basketball brought me and my wife together. I've been very fortunate. It's helped me put a lot of things in perspective. I haven't made a lot of money, but we've been comfortable. Life has been stress-free, but being involved in basketball and in sports has relieved a lot of that stress.

"I don't regret for one minute by involvement in basketball and in sports."