Corvallis High athletic director Bob Holt spent a moment or two pointing out a few features of his office to Crescent Valley AD Craig Ellingson.
Holt’s office has the look of a space grown quite comfortable through the years.
A blue and white Corvallis High Spartans blanket covers a couch. A candy dispenser made out of a mason jar sits on Holt’s desk. An autographed Oregon State cross-country poster is attached to a cabinet door.
On the wall are track and field posters and a variety of photos. A Steve Prefontaine poster and a Corvallis Gazette-Times Gameday tabloid featuring former CHS and Oregon State football player Isaac Seumalo are on display.
There was even a Crescent Valley track photo from Holt’s days coaching the Raiders.
Holt, 76, and Ellingson, 64 in July, are retiring at the end of the school year, which wraps up Tuesday.
Both athletic directors arrived in Corvallis in 1977 and coached throughout their careers. Holt became the AD at Corvallis in 2000 and Ellingson at Crescent Valley the next year.
Holt was named the 5A athletic director of the year for 2019 by the Oregon Athletic Directors Association and Ellingson presented the award.
"He did a nice job, too," Holt said. "He was going to say a couple things but he kind of limited it to one, which was, ‘you, know, Bob is 76 years old. It might take him a long time to get to the stage so maybe he should start coming right now."
Holt and Ellingson got together recently for a conversation with Mid-Valley Media sports reporter Kevin Hampton.
Why did you decide to retire and has it been something you’ve been considering for some time?
Holt: Yeah, for a couple years. As a matter of fact, both Craig and I went to half time this past year and I kind of started that. I felt my work load was getting more than I could handle comfortably. I was teaching three math classes and being the athletic director. And I said, you know, if I could drop the three math classes and just be the athletic director, I would be more than happy to come back half time. And the thought then was just half time and that led to just retiring.
Ellingson: There comes a point where I guess it’s time. There’s mixed feelings about it, for sure. I’m not leaving like oh I can hardly wait. I’m still enjoying my job at the moment and that will be good in time. I don’t want to leave like I just couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I’m still enjoying it and that’s good, I think. There’s no bitter. It’s been a great place to work. It doesn’t feel like work and it certainly doesn’t feel like 42 years.
What are some of the changes you’ve experienced through the years?
Holt: What about six classifications from four? Or even from three to four? The number of classifications has made a big change.
Ellingson: I really think that’s a really good point because we seemed to not have change for so long. It seemed to be the same schools, we had 83 schools in our classification and when we went from three to four it stayed pretty much the same, but going from four to six was a huge change not only in classification but within our own league. It was a huge change.
Holt: Everything became sort of new. The schools you were dealing with and the athletic directors, so it was different people, just different people. For so many years it was just the Salem schools, Lebanon, Albany and Corvallis and that was the league. And now we reach out and we go to Silverton and it used to be Woodburn and Dallas is included and now Central’s moved up the last couple of years. It’s just a little bit different that way.
I guess one thing I throw out is I can remember going back to my high school days, which was 59 years this summer since I graduated from high school. At Sandy High School, we were a school of about 400 kids, there were about 90 kids in my graduating class. And we played schools, like we played Jefferson of Portland, which was 2,200 students at that time. We never thought anything about it. But then all of a sudden everybody started worrying about we can’t have a school of 400 playing a school of 2,200. That’s just not right. We started getting more concerned about that and then trying to figure out how to solve the problem.
In solving the problem in classification is now we’ve got one school in our league in football but not in anything else, McKay, because they have trouble competing at football. Now in trying to equalize it, you look at a school like Woodburn in boys soccer they can play at any level and win but the other sports they couldn’t. So now we’re thinking about, well, maybe boys soccer can be 6A and some girls sports they can be 3A. It would get so complicated.
Ellingson: I think to Bob’s point, looking forward I almost wonder if you’re going to see an elimination of conferences or leagues. Every sport will almost be a special district and like Bob said, we’re really already seeing it with football. It’s so strange when we have AD meetings. In the fall we have a different AD there and he drops out in winter and spring. I just think that’s what’s coming down the road.
Holt: I guess technology has helped in some respects for coaches. We don’t trade film any more. We just go to the computer and access the video of your opponent. Those kinds of things have changed. I can remember when I was the head football coach at Centennial and right after the game we would have somebody rush the game film to Evergreen Film Services in Portland and they would develop the film overnight and you would get it on Saturday morning and you’d get an extra copy. When we played The Dalles we’d drive up to Hood River on Saturday morning and meet the coaches from The Dalles and we would trade film. They handed us film of their last game and we handed them film of our last game. All of that is gone. You don’t do that anymore. You go to your computer, there it is.
Ellingson: I was thinking about this the other day. When it comes down to what’s really important, I don’t think there’s much change. When you talk about kids and their passion for playing a sport, that really has been there from the beginning. And you talk about parents and their passion, some of them maybe a little too much passion, that hasn’t changed. It’s always been there and I don’t think that will ever go away. The things that are important are pretty much the same.
Holt: When I was in school, we were multi-sport athletes. I went from football in the fall to basketball in the winter and track in the spring. I think soccer really brought it on with club soccer and year-round soccer, there are volleyball clubs now and they want to go year-round. And so you see a lot of sports where the opportunity is there for kids to play year-round and I think it’s to the detriment of some kids because they don’t try other things. So I kind of see that as a change from when we first started to now and you wonder where that will ultimately lead to. Will we ultimately wind up with high schools without sports and all of our athletic programs will be like it is in Europe and they’ll all be club sports and we won’t have high school sports anymore? I don’t know.
Ellingson: What I believe we’re seeing is those kids start at such a young age and they come in to high school with really much better skills than they used to have, which is good in one way but in another way they’re maybe not as athletic. I look at sports that specialize at a young age, other kids say oh, I can’t do that as a ninth-grader because they haven’t done it from the third grade on, which is unfortunate. And they’re better athletes and they would just need some skill development and with that skill development they could play.
But don’t you think the really good athletes, especially on the guys’ side, are doing more than one sport?
Holt: I think so because they don’t feel the same pressure to play year-round because they know if you’re a darn good basketball player, when you show up for basketball practice, you’re not going to have to worry about making the team. It’s probably the marginal kid who is really struggling to make the team and how am I going to make this team? Well, maybe I’m going to have to do this year-round so I can make the team. But I think the really good athletes can kind say, hey, I’m going to do what I want to do.
Ellingson: We used to have four basketball teams, for example. Per gender. Now we have three. And for soccer, even, the numbers are down for us. I know they’re not for Corvallis. But volleyball numbers are down, basketball girls is way down and softball is down.
Holt: I think girls sports, it’s kind of tapered off a little bit. After Title IX there was a push to get girls involved and they got involved and they did a great job, but it’s kind of come to same to the same thing as boys now. If girls don’t start early, if you’re not playing on a Future Raiders or Future Spartans basketball team in the sixth grade, your chance of making it in high school is maybe not that good. But that’s not coming from us. That’s the perception coming from somewhere else and we keep trying to convince the kids, yeah, you should try it.
Like we both only have two girls basketball teams. We used to have three all the time. We used to have three softball teams when I first started here. Now we have two. We’ve had two for several years now.
Ellingson: And we had one this year.
Holt: Who was it that sent out the message the other day? I think it was Dallas, who said we will not have a varsity soccer girls team. We will play JV2. That’s the third level. That’s the best we can put on the field right now.
Ellingson: With numbers. It’s concerning. So that’s a change.
I’m hoping, and it sounds like the district is looking at trying to bring some middle school — and Bob and I support that — sports back in the school.
Our replacements are now administrators, we’re not. Many people think we are, but we’re not. And now they are and part of that thinking is that they will oversee the middle school sports, his replacement (Salvador Munoz) with Linus Pauling, mine (Mark Henderson) with Cheldelin.
Holt: I’d like to see instead of Future Spartans or Future Raiders, maybe it would be Linus Pauling basketball and maybe it would be Cheldelin basketball. Then you kind of align with your school, that’s kind of neat.
What kept you going for so many years?
Holt: I can say a huge part of it is the kids. That really is a huge part of it. I love coaching, too, and I can remember when I got hired for this job I was coaching track at Crescent Valley and two or three of the girls on the track team came up to me and said, ‘you can still coach track at Crescent Valley right? And be the athletic director at Corvallis? And I said, ‘well, I haven’t brought that up, I don’t know how that would work.’
But I think the opportunity to work with high school kids is pretty neat. The opportunity to think that maybe you can have some influence and help direct people in a certain direction is kind of nice.
You see kids in an entirely different light when they’re out for a sport than in the classroom. Sometimes it just brings out some really good things about them that you just didn’t get in the classroom because they’re doing something they really like.
Ellingson: I’ve just really enjoyed being around athletics my entire life. I actually applied for the AD position when I was really young. At the time I didn’t think I was young, but I was really young and I’m really thankful I didn’t get it looking back. But the second time when Clyde (Marshall) resigned I thought I really would like to try to do this. My thought was to be a coach of coaches and really work with coaches and hire and then try to work with them as kind of my team. I think when you’re at one school as long as I’ve been, for me I needed some change within the school and it felt like a fresh start for me.
Then I thoroughly enjoy those relationships with coaches and with kids. I’ve missed teaching and I’ve missed coaching, for sure. But I’ve really enjoyed what I’m doing with coaches.
Holt: I would second that. I think the opportunity to hire good people and to try to help them do a better job, especially when they’re young they don’t always see things the way we see it.
I think that brings up another point too that I should throw out. Before I came here, when I was at Centennial and was the head football coach, everybody on my staff taught at Centennial. And now what’s happened is you really have to coach coaches even more because so many of them aren’t on your teaching staff. They come from another arena and so they don’t have the same sense or understanding that an educator should have in terms of coaching. Because it is teaching, it is educating. There are things you don’t say in the classroom and you get somebody who’s, well I’ve played football before and I know what to do. And just their approach to working with kids is something that has to be taught and molded a little bit. I think that’s a huge thing is being able to find coaches who are also educators who are part of your teaching staff.
Ellingson: And the other part of that, and I think you’re catching up with off-staff coaches and we’re kind of going the other direction now where we’re trying to hire more on staff, but there’s really an upside to having off staff people, I’ve found. That I’ve really enjoyed, that I didn’t think I would. And I think it’s to a kid’s advantage to kind of see the world through different eyes that isn’t just education. It really was interesting, not only for me but for I think for some of our students. But again, my job was to help those non-educators.
This was a long time ago, but I remember walking by an assistant coach yelling at a team, going, ‘if you’d just go to class, they’re going to give you a D. You don’t even have to do anything.’ I just said, oh, wow. We had to sit down and say, one, that’s just not true here. And he came from a place where maybe it was, I don’t know. But it’s just not true and even if it was, that’s not our bar.
We teach kids how to compete. You don’t really see that in the classroom. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s a good thing. Some people are starting to see that as a bad thing. But the saying is winning is our goal, and it is, but it’s not our purpose. And I think that sums up high school sports so well.
Holt: I couldn’t agree more and some people lose sight of that, too. They think that winning is everything. That’s what you get with some off-staff people, is the idea that we’re here to win.
We had our senior awards thing (June 4) so I got to read off the names of all the kids that have a 3.50 or better and have lettered in an OSAA sport or competed in solo music and so forth and I just said it’s kind of neat to see all these kids who do so well in the classroom and then can compete in athletics or music. I said it’s the same traits, it’s the same characteristics. They’re transferable from one part of your life to another part of your life. If you’re a hard worker and you put your nose to the grindstone, that’s the way you are in everything you do.
Sometimes in sports you’ll learn a lot more about yourself than you do in the classroom, especially when you have to compete.
Ellingson: The other thing I love about sports is the disappointment part. I just think that’s such a teachable moment. And then later in life, with joy comes disappointment. We’ve all had disappointment in our lives and sometimes I think people haven’t learned how to deal with that and I think sports is a great way to segue into life and learn from it.
How would you describe your relationship considering you work at ‘rival’ schools?
Holt: That’s never been a factor. We just sort of gravitated toward one another in what we do. We have more in common than other people.
We do the same thing, we’re involved in the same thing, so it’s ideal that we talk to one another about these things. I’ve never felt that I couldn’t talk to Craig about anything.
Ellingson: We have the same clientele. Some people don’t want to believe that, but I think the students are great here and I think they’re great at CV and the families are for the most part very supportive and positive.
I remember the first time Bob had an impact on me before he was an athletic director, when he was a coach at CV, we had a state tournament team and we were practicing in the gym and I was adamant about the gym being closed and quiet and we were getting ready to go off to the state tournament. And all of a sudden the doors open and he brought in I don’t know how many kids and they started singing and (i was like) what is going on and it was Bob wishing us good luck at the state tournament. And that’s kind of way he’s always been. He’s very supportive of kids, no matter what school. And I say if you can’t get along with Bob, you can’t get along with anyone and so it made it pretty easy. It’s been great.