By CHRIS LARICK
Ashtabula County can boast of its fair share of excellent high school basketball coaches in its history.
Ashtabula High School Coach Bob Ball notched 361 wins over 28 years. Jon Hall Sr. managed 333 in 27 seasons. Though many of Hall’s came as a coach in other counties, many too were at Edgewood and St. John.
Geneva’s Bill Koval claimed 325 wins in 27 years, while Conneaut’s Andy Garcia won 312 games in 22 years.
All of those coaches have two things in common: They coached boys and they are now in the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
Girls coaches, meanwhile, had one problem that kept them from equaling or surpassing boys coaches in Ohio: Girls basketball was not a recognized OHSAA sport until the 1975-76 season.
Jefferson coach Rod Holmes didn’t start as head coach of the Falcons until 1985. But by 2006 he had passed all of those county boys coaches in victories. By the time he resigned as Jefferson girls basketball coach he had racked up 444 victories, all but seven of them at Jefferson. His lifetime record of 444-204 gave him a .685 winning percentage, also the highest in county history.
As a result of his success and his development of fine high school players, Holmes himself will be inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame on Apr. 3 at Conneaut’s New Leaf Banquet Center.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of his coaching success is that basketball was not even his best sport. In fact, he was cut from Badger High School’s boys team as a senior. The sport he truly excelled in was baseball.
Born in Warren in 1959 to Ray and Betty J. Holmes, Rod went on to Badger High School, then to Malone College, where he played baseball for four years and majored in mathematics. After graduation he got a teaching and coaching job at Bristol High School before shortly thereafter beginning at Jefferson as a teacher and coach in 1983. HIs success as a coach surprised even himself.
“(I didn’t expect to get that many wins) when I started,” Holmes once told Bob Ettinger. “You never know how long you’re going to stay in it or how long they’re going to let you stay in it. Those first couple of years (a 7-14 season at Bristol and a 2-19 year at Jefferson), I never thought we’d be above .500, let alone get the number of victories I’ve ended up with.”
In 2006 he broke the county record for career basketball coaching wins. He surpassed the 400-win barrier in 2009, only the 30th girls’ basketball coach in Ohio to reach that mark.
Of the many great players Holmes has coached, nine of them: (chronologically) Anita Jurcenko, Kelly Boggs, Di Anthony, Traci Hozian, Trixie Wolfe, Kiki McNair, Kelly Kapferer, Shelly Burns and Bekki Hamper are already in the ACBF Hall of Fame. A 10th, Mary (Herendeen) Barr will join them this year, along with Holmes, in his case posthumously.
“Over the years, you see how many girls we’ve had go on to play in college,” Holmes said in 2009. “You can see why we’ve gotten as many wins as we’ve gotten. It feels good to get the wins. But it feels good that the girls get the wins. They’ve had success and that’s what it’s about.
“We’ve had good players,” Holmes said. “All of them have put a lot of time into the game. They’ve practice alone at home in the driveway, at a church or somewhere else. Some of them put in five, six or seven hours a day during the summer. When those girls put all of that time in, it makes it easy for a coach.”
Holmes felt every Jefferson player contributed to his success in one way or another.
“No, doubt about it,” Holmes said. “Every player that’s been here has contributed in some way. I think that first group I coached at Jefferson, which won just two games, had as much to do with (my success) as any other group I’ve had. They’re the ones that got it going.”
The time he spent coaching, as is true for all coaches, inevitably cost him some time with his family.
By the time of his death from a virulent form of colon cancer in 2016, he had been married to Denise, for 33 years. The Holmses gave birth to two children, Raymond and Katie. His family supported him in his coaching career greatly.
“It means a lot” Holmes, who regretted missing his daughter’s first JV basketball game for Pymatuning Valley because of a Jefferson tournament game.
"I didn’t get to see it and that bothers me. But my kids and my wife understand. My wife used to have a sign that said, ‘This marriage interrupted for basketball season.’ I’m out of the house quite a lot through basketball season.”"
Both of the Holmes children took turns sitting on the bench alongside their father for games while wearing a version of the trademarked red sweater their father wore.
Many of the Jefferson players Holmes coached looked upon hiim as a father figure.
"He was the father I didn't have,” Traci Hozian once said. "He pushed me to become not just a great player, but a great person.”
“It was great to have his influence for four years,” said Jurcenko, the first of his players to be inducted into the ACBF Hall of Fame said. "I’m amazed at how he was able to get so much out of people. He knows so much about motivating and leading young kids. I found out there ’s a big difference between a coach and a mentor/leader.”
Bekki Hamper, who played for Holmes quite a few years later, said, “It was great to have his influence for four years. I’m amazed at how he was able to get so much out of people. He knows so much about motivating and leading young kids. He knows how to get the most out of each individual.”
Similar feelings were expressed by all of the Jefferson players Holmes coached. One of the first, Kelly Boggs, summed up the influence he had.
"I loved Coach Holmes from the beginning," she said. "He always exuded positiveness. He was the gentle giant. He never got mad.”
Denise, his widow, recently moved to Lancaster, Ohio (about 30-35 miles from Columbus) to be near the Holmes children, Raymond and Katie.
Raymond, who starred as a football lineman at Pymatuning Valley and won the prestigious Robert L Wiese Award, is now a pharmacist at Fairfield Medical Center in Lancaster. Katie played softball and basketball at PV, going on to earn a softball scholarship at Edinboro University, where she played catcher for four years. Katie is currently a stay-at-home mom but also runs sewing business and clothing line businesses from home. She lives about a half mile from Denise in Lancaster.
“It’s good that I moved down here,” Denise said recently. “I get to see my kids all the time.”
She also enjoys being with her grandchildren; Katie’s two boys, Joshua, 4, and Kristopher, 6 months; and Raymond’s daughter, Dellawynn, 2.