Program’s winning culture grows with Holler in charge at Oak Creek
Earns second NOW Coach of the Year honor in three years
Oak Creek - It wasn't always this way for the Oak Creek baseball program, where 20-plus win seasons are the rule and contention for conference and state titles is an expected norm, even in a marvelously, amazing rebuilding year like the Knights went through this summer en route to their fourth WIAA state crown.
Just ask veteran coach Joel Paar, now an assistant for the team, who started with the program as a head coach in 1994.
"We really had to change the overall expectations," Paar said. "The first question at the first meeting that I had was 'Can we still play softball during the season?' "
The answer was an emphatic "No" and those who didn't like that answer could leave.
That day a door was opened, a fresh breeze wafted through the program and the Knights have had the wind at their backs ever since.
Committing himself to program
One who came along a few years into this process, just as Paar was raising expectations and starting to achieve things not thought possible in the program, was a smart, gritty, intense shortstop. He would hit ninth in the order his junior year in 1997 but worked his way up to the top of the lineup his senior year in 1998.
He bought into the "Oak Creek Way" that Paar was creating with a full payment of intensity, effort and commitment right from the start. His name was Scott Holler and he is the current flag-bearer of "The Way," having been the head coach since 2005 (the year he won his first state title at the helm).
Seven years later, Holler once again led the Knights to the state championship. As a result, he has captured his second NOW All-Suburban Baseball Coach of the Year honor in three years.
The award comes as no surprise to either Paar or Peter Dooley (coach of the 2003 and 2004 state champions) who laid the foundation for "The Way" that Holler has built upon.
"Scott was the first person who really committed to the program," Paar said. "You could see what he would be like even then. He was like a grandfather, very conservative in a way. You asked him to do something and he did it. He just really respects the game.
"And you can see his affect on the program. From the way the field (at Abendschein Park) is set up, to the way practices are scheduled. It has all helped him become as successful as he's become, because he loves and respects the game."
Adding layers of success
The love and respect is something that is taught from coach-to-coach, player-to-player.
"When I took over for coach Paar (in 1999), he left me a ton of talent," said Dooley, "and just like it was this year, kids had waited their turn, because the freshmen and JV teams were in such good shape and the youth program had been established. There were great coaches throughout. It all leads to a good program."
Which Holler has continued to build on, using the tenets that he learned from Paar and keeping Paar in the picture.
The veteran mentor helps out as a varsity assistant and junior varsity coach.
It's a circling back of the way, looping one success upon another as Paar is frequently summoned to give the pregame speeches.
"He is such a great motivator," Holler said. "He can get the kids mentally ready so fast. He comes from a football background and the kids just love him because he's just so passionate about the history of the program.
"Baseball was virtually nonexistent at Oak Creek until he got here."
If Paar built the sound foundation of "The Way," then Dooley and Holler have made it a sturdy skyscraper, adding layers of success, impervious to the strong breezes of injury, graduation and stiff competition.
No rebuilding, just reloading
And Holler's team had to work its way through all those factors, as the Greater Metro Conference, which the Knights won last year, was just as tough as always, despite several of the top teams also enduring big graduation losses. Oak Creek was the runner-up in both the regular season and conference tournament.
Also, as well documented, the injury bug hit the team big at the two-thirds mark of the season, as top pitcher Austin Barbee went down with a shoulder injury (he was still able to serve as a designated hitter).
But the most remarkable thing about this team was that it was almost starting with a completely new look in 2012, as only two full-time starters returned from 2011.
While superstars like 2011 NOW All-Suburban stars Chris Bournelis (pitcher) and Joey Gribble (outfielder) were no longer around to do spectacular deeds, Holler, in keeping with past tradition, did have Gribble and fellow 2011 outfield starter Ryan Ungerecht serve as assistants.
Andy Abromaitis, a member of the 2005 championship squad, was also helping out in that regard.
They all reminded the current team of "The Way" and helped make Holler's job easier - although the coach, himself, never lets up.
'A great role model'
"There are two sides to coach Holler," said All-Suburban first baseman Riley Shelton. "The game side and the practice side. The game side is the most intense guy I've ever seen. He wants to win and he wants to win badly.
"The practice side is a good guy, who will help you out and try to make you better any way he can. Just a great role model."
Who inspires great loyalty.
"He just keeps working hard and kids just keep coming back to the programs," said Dooley of Holler. "They come back because they believe in the blue and white.
"They believe in what he's doing. It's just amazing."
But it's simply Holler's vision of keeping "The Way" alive.
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