CLEVELAND, Ohio, October 29. THERE’S no doubt that Jerry Holtrey would continue to find success in his role as head coach of the Hawken High School boys’ and girls’ teams. State championships seem to fall in their laps with relatively little difficulty.
But Holtrey knew that it was time to step away. After 45 seasons, Holtrey announced that he’s going to step down as head coach of the Hawken swim teams at the end of the season in February, handing the reins to SPIRE Institute head coach Jim Bocci.
“I just got tired,” Holtrey told Swimming World. “You have to be real energetic and enthusiastic with the kids. I lost some of that, and when you lose some of that, the kids tend to think you’re too old to get the job done. Mentally, everything is fine there, but it seemed like the right time.”
Holtrey won’t completely leave the Hawken team. He said he’ll serve as a consultant, helping out with coaching “as needed,” though he’s happy that the coaching staff will include his longtime assistant William Stacy to help with the transition.
Holtrey leaves the head coaching job with 25 Ohio high school state titles to his credit. Two of those were won by the boys’ team, and his girls’ squad has cleaned up with an impressive 23 titles, of which 15 have been won consecutively.
It’s likely he could end his career holding the championship trophy for a 26th time at the conclusion of the state meet at the end of February. While that might be a lasting memory for Holtrey, it’s not what he’ll treasure most in his time at Hawken.
“In my first few years I was very gung ho about winning all the time,” he said. “We were fortunate to win, but I changed my thinking on my position as a coach and my responsibilities. Now, I get great satisfaction seeing kids who have graduated come back and have been great contributors in the community.”
Sean Justice, who graduated from Hawken and became an NCAA All-American at the University of Florida, echoes Holtrey’s sentiment of creating well-rounded people.
“Jerry taught not just values that would make you successful in the pool, but in life” Justice said. “It is because of the work ethic that I developed with him in pool that translated to the success that I have had out of it.”
Justice, an engineer, said he moved to Cleveland specifically to swim for Holtrey, and found a special tradition that created lasting mementos.
“Before high school districts every year, Jerry would write every swimmer a hand-written letter. The letter was between you and him, and it was a message about how well you were going to swim. I have all of my letters and I know that many of his swimmers have kept them as well. It is something that is talked about and every swimmer is excited to receive.”
Holtrey will still be involved with the Lake Erie Silver Dolphins, the USA Swimming club where he developed Melanie Valerio and Diana Munz into Olympians. He currently works there as associate head coach after founding the team in 1968.