WHEELERSBURG — At first, believe it or not, Dirk Hollar had no clue of what cross country was —and even less interest in participating.
“I remember walking home from school one day, and my mother worked in the Minerva school system. She said some lady came that day to the high school and talked about cross country. I had no idea what cross country was,” revealed Hollar. “I remember laughing at my mom and telling her like ‘yeah, I want to go play a sport where all I do is just run.’”
That remark made by Hollar was during his sixth grade, but oh what running indeed will do — even a full-quarter century later.
That’s because Hollar, a member of the Shawnee State University men’s cross country program for the falls of 2002 thru 2005, will be one of four inductees into the SSU Athletics Hall of Fame — for the class of 2022.
He said he received the official telephone call from SSU Director of Athletics Jeff Hamilton in July —a call in which Hollar originally didn’t answer.
“I didn’t answer it at first, but called him back the next day. He (Hamilton) said ‘Oh don’t worry, it’s nothing important or anything,’” said Hollar, with a laugh. “I was a little shocked at first. I knew I had a decent career, but after I left, what they’ve done since then with Coach (Eric) Putnam has been amazing.”
That’s correct, that same Hollar whose off-color comment back then represented the finish line of an anti-running attitude — and the starting box for a Hall of Fame running career.
And, apparently, all it took for a true change of heart for the 2002 Minerva High School graduate was watching a couple of races as that same sixth-grader — and running in a large weather-impacted meet at Walsh University.
“I decided I’d give cross country a try, and one of my first meets it was pouring rain and muddy and miserable there (at Walsh University) that day. I was so nervous, I felt like I was going to throw up. I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But I ran and I had fun and from there on out, I liked it.”
Eventually, by his SSU senior season in 2005 — and for first-year Bears’ coach Eric Putnam — he loved the sport.
“It’s you versus hundreds of kids. Each team has seven or eight runners and you just went after it. That’s what I loved about cross country, especially when I got to high school. You can’t really blame teammates. It’s you against the course and the competition, and if you don’t run well that day, that’s your fault,” said Hollar. “Then I loved running for Eric (Putnam). He made you want to get up at 6 a.m. and run up Waller Street (in Portsmouth). He is a nutjob, and I mean that as a compliment, and I loved running for him. The hardest thing was running in the summer. Eric had us run eight miles in the morning, then he wants you to do an evening workout too. But you ask yourself if you want to go out there and get murdered by 150 runners, or do you want to go kick their butts? That was my motivation.”
At Shawnee State, Hollar’s historic career featured four appearances in the NAIA National Championship meet — as he became the first runner in program history to accomplish that.
Hollar held the highest individual finish at Nationals honor for the first full decade of the Bears’ program, before SSU Hall of Famer Keegan Rathkamp finished 10th in 2008.
As a freshman, he made American Mideast All-Conference honors — being named to the Honorable Mention unit after recording six top-10 finishes.
One of those finishes was in 26 minutes and 21 seconds — and at the time was the fast-ever recorded clocking by a freshman.
In his senior season, he captured second-team honors of the American Mideast Conference — where he had five top-10 finishes.
“After qualifying for Nationals when I was a freshman, my confidence just skyrocketed. I knew what I could do and what I was capable of doing,” he said.
For five miles, which is the regulation run for college competitors compared to the three miles in high school, Hollar’s personal-best time was 25:52.
“You’ll notice the difference, trust me. If you can’t get through that fourth or fifth mile, when you are first making that transition from high school to college running, it’s brutal. You put in more miles, more speed workouts. It wasn’t that big of a jump for me, but the longer we went, the better I got actually,” he said. “The longer my race, the better and stronger I felt. I actually liked five-mile races. “
Hollar — at Minerva — said he kept cross country in the fold, for he used it as a mechanism to remain in good physical shape for basketball.
He was also a member of the track and field team there.
Larry Mangus, the SSU men’s coach prior to Putnam and when the Bears did not offer track and field for the spring, recruited Hollar from northern Ohio — and coached him for three seasons.
In his senior campaign for Putnam, Hollar reduced his times from 45 seconds to a full minute.
“It’s not an easy sport. Everybody thinks all you do is go out and run. No, you go out and run as hard as you can until you throw up or pass out. That was my mentality when I ran,” he admitted. “I was very competitive.”
Hollar graduated from Shawnee State with a degree in Mathematics — as he currently is employed as a Geometry teacher at Wheelersburg High School.
Following his graduation, he has remained in the Scioto County and even immediate Kentucky area — having first substituted and coached cross country for one year at Notre Dame, before crossing the Ohio River to teach in Greenup County and teach and coach cross country and track and field for Boyd County.
He then assisted in the Minford boys basketball program, before becoming the Green boys basketball coach for six seasons.
He served on Dusty Spradlin’s staff with Wheelersburg’s girls for the past two years, and will join the Pirates’ program on the boys side this coming winter with Alex Prater.
“It’s been a circle,” said Hollar, of his Ohio River stops.
But, Hollar and his family have indeed made southern Ohio their home.
“People always give me crap about living around Portsmouth or whatever, but I love southern Ohio and it just feels like home to me. I just love this area, I love the kids, I’ve met a lot of great people around here over the years, and I have no interest in leaving until both my wife (Carrie) and I retire from education,” he said. “Right now, we love southern Ohio.”
The SSU HOF induction ceremony will take place on Friday, Sept. 23 in the Vern Riffe Center as part of Homecoming Weekend at Shawnee State.
The ceremony begins at 7 p.m., with a social following — as tickets cost $50 and can be purchased by visiting www.ssuhof.com.
Hollar said he hasn’t prepared his induction speech yet, but is grateful for the honor — as his opinion and love of cross country, and subsequent accomplishments in the sport, have covered many miles since the sixth grade.
“I do know that I appreciate what Shawnee State did for me. They really recruited me and wanted me to be there. I really enjoyed it. I am very grateful and happy for everything, and Shawnee State was a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I am glad I met the people I did, and they helped pushed me to be successful in everything I did.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved