My Track and Field Life

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs 2 Comments

I was asked to blog for ITCCCA,  specifically about sprinting.  My track ideas are somewhat unique, somewhat unusual.  My sprinters have experienced unique and unusual success.  I am proud that I have evolved as a coach and that my program is kid-centered and not coach-centered.

To understand my evolution and understand where my ideas come from, you must know something about my history in Track & Field.

I was a basketball coach’s kid.  Don Holler was a head basketball coach for 44 years at the high school and college level.  He served as head coach at Gridley HS, Flanagan HS, Shelbyville HS, Princeton HS, Oswego HS, Aurora University, and Aurora Central Catholic HS.  At some of those schools he also coached football, baseball, track, golf, and tennis.  He is presently working as a Dean’s Assistant at Waubonsie HS.  This past fall he experienced his 72nd consecutive first day of school.

Don Holler, basketball coach at Aurora University, my mom sitting in background

Don Holler, as basketball coach at Aurora University, my mom sitting in background

My mother, Paula Holler,  had three brothers who played college football, Larry, Kelly, and Kevin Kane.  Larry Kane was a head football coach at Lexington HS, Marseilles HS, Nokomis HS, Morris HS, Flora HS, Carmi HS, Morton HS, and Mattoon HS.  Kelly Kane was a head football coach at Spring Valley HS, Galesburg HS, Monmouth College, and Streator HS.  I student taught under Kelly when I went to Knox College and he was later my “Best Man”  when I married in 1983.

My son, Alec Holler, coaches football and track at Edwardsville HS.

Coaching is the family business.

Like all coach’s kids, being an athlete was the focal point of my life.  I grew up in gymnasiums and locker rooms.  I carried a clipboard at games and kept stats when most kids played under the bleachers.

At age 13 (7th grade) I was tall, thin, and slow.  Living a sports life, I was good enough play QB in football and start on the basketball team.  My dad made me go out for junior high track, said it would be good for me.

My initial experience was horrifying.  I was embarrassed to be last in a time trial.  I was the slowest runner on the team and I was going to quit.  Dad told me to stick with it.  He also told me that I would be the fastest guy on the team as a senior.  He was almost right.

Mike Coates, a former college track athlete, was my coach in junior high (Logan Jr. High, Princeton, IL).  He did three essential things.

  • Typed and posted meet lineups.
  • Typed and posted meet results.
  • Handed out ribbons after every meet.


I will never forget my first meet.  I was listed as our team’s 7th and slowest runner in the 440 dash.  The meet was held on a cinder track in Streator and the 440 had over 20 entries.  I took off in a sprint with my teammates laughing at me and telling me to slow down.  I took the lead, did my best to hold on, and finished 4th … one of my proudest track moments.  My time was 67.1.

Eventually, I ran 58.2 in the 8th grade and earned a solid spot on my team.  The first race I ever won was in Geneseo.  I broke the string at the finish and tied a piece of it into my shoe as a souvenir.  I still remember the cinders, the smell of Cramer Atomic Balm, and the cold, wet,  & windy weather.

My freshman year I “specialized” and shot hoops all spring.  Sad that I never got a chance to be coached by Hall of Famer Gary Coates of Princeton.  I won the 50, 400, and 1600 in my PE class.

I moved to Oswego my sophomore year (1974) and planned to play only basketball.  The football coach, Roger Wilcox, was also the track coach.  Roger heard that I was a good QB so he treated me as a VIP.  For some reason, I wanted him to respect me.  I wanted to be a good athlete for him.  Therefore, I ran track and started for him at QB the next season.

Roger Wilcox was an old-school WWII-general type of coach.  Ladders, 15 x 150, 12 x 200, 10 x 300, 8 x 400 … if you missed your time, you had to run extra.  I practiced in Adidas Pro Model basketball shoes.  I vomited almost every day.  He gave me a bucket at the awards banquet.  I was a relay guy and bought into the team concept.  Roger was big on the team thing.  Sycamore had a 7’5″ high jumper (Gail Olsen) and Kaneland had a 46.9 440 runner (Mark Claypool) but Oswego won the Little Seven Championship in 1976 & 1977.  I was on two school record relay teams, several conference championship relays, and once ran a 50.2 split in the 4×4.

My high school coach, Roger Wilcox

My high school coach, Roger Wilcox

Looking back, Roger Wilcox taught me three important things:

  • The team concept of track & field
  • The priority of having elite relays
  • The “manliness” of track & field


But still, I was a basketball player doing track in the spring.  Track practice was awful.  Meets were cold, windy, and wet.  We shoveled snow before a meet once.  Our only fans were our teammates.

I went to Knox College to play basketball for Harley Knosher.  Anyone who knows Harley speaks of him like a god.  He was a master motivator and the best teacher I’ve ever known.  My freshmen year didn’t go very well, so I went out for track to prove my athleticism.  Basketball died my sophomore year.  I was the captain of the track team for both my sophomore and junior seasons, then helped coach my senior year.

The track coach at Knox was the football coach.  Joe Campanelli had zero experience with track, had never run track, never coached.  He read coaching books.  We did intervals.  We checked our pulse.  Eventually I started doing some of the coaching.  Interesting experience.

Basketball was in my blood.  I got my first teaching  job at Harrisburg H.S., 30 miles from Kentucky, and a long way from civilization.  I coached 3 sports but I was a basketball guy.  I was head basketball coach from 1982-1990.  I agreed to become head track coach in February of 1990 when they could find no one else.  The next month the school board surprised everyone (including the Superintendent, Principal, & Athletic Director) when they fired their basketball coach.  I officially became a Track & Field guy.

In my 2nd season, we placed 3rd in the state class A (1991).  In a period of 14 years we won 8 state trophies, 3 of them state championships.  I was really into track.

Due to bizarre circumstances (so strange that I could write a book), we moved to Franklin, TN.  I took a non-existent track program and turned it into one of the best in Tennessee.  My second year (2006) we had the best talent in the state but didn’t finish well due to injuries. We finished 12th without our #1 short sprinter, our #3 long sprinter, and our terrific long jumper & triple jumper.  A sore calf, stress-fractured foot, and a torn meniscus kept us from winning it all. Four of my athletes went to NCAA Division-1 track & field programs.

In 2007, I started a varsity program at a new school, Plainfield North.  We’ve had some very good moments and we’ve come a long way in a short time.  Our program won a conference title with its first senior class.  Students at North want to run track & all fast guys want to be in the program. In our last race of 2012 and the last race of the 2012 IHSA State Track Meet, four of our seniors gave thousands of spectators a lesson in courage. Go to 6:37:30 mark in the following video – 2012 IHSA State Meet.

One last thing, my own kids changed me.  Adrienne, Alec, Troy, and Quinn had some positive athletic experiences but also some terrible ones.  Adrienne did not like Cross Country or Track.  I blame the coach.  She quit the team.  In 2012 I ran a marathon with her (see below).  My son Alec was a victim of coach-centered football and basketball programs that turned political and unbearable.  I became highly motivated to provide positive experiences.


My 4th marathon, Adrienne’s 1st. Adrienne hated running in high school but loves it now.


So why the history lesson?

How did my experiences shape my track & field ideas?

My experiences taught me that track sucks.

  • Track is a secondary sport, a step-child compared to the “ball sports”.
  • Spring in Illinois is cold, wet, & windy.
  • I’ve often said, the only kids that run track are the ones that can’t hit a baseball.
  • Basketball players would rather play AAU.
  • Many football coaches don’t trust track programs with “their players”.
  • Football neanderthals still believe in B.F.S.  (Bigger, Fatter, Slower)
  • Too many people consider track & field a recreational pursuit, not the proud sport that it should be.


When we are proud of  t-shirts proclaiming “OUR SPORT IS YOUR SPORT’S PUNISHMENT”, we are in trouble.

I hate this.

Does this promote our sport?


When there are trash cans at meets saying “SPIT & VOMIT HERE”,  we are in trouble.

Who does our P.R.?

This gives sprinters the creeps.


If you go to a high school baseball game, the entire family is there, maybe even extended family.  Track athletes seem like orphans.  Most parents do not attend meets.  Parents willing to spend $2000 per summer on travel baseball balk at buying track spikes for our sport.  Parents who are willing to volunteer for hours of fundraising and concession stand work disappear during track season.

I remember saying in high school, “The only good thing about track is when the workout is over … or your race is over.”  I would dream of being a high jumper that never had to vomit at practice.  My school days in the spring were spent with the black cloud of practice lingering over my head.  When I went to bed at night, I would sometimes visualize an upcoming 440 yard dash … my palms would sweat & my heart would start racing.  Looking back, it was like a panic attack.

In the back of my mind, I think I always wanted to create an “alternative universe” for track and field.

“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”  -Frank Zappa

My alternative universe was created in 1998 & 1999.

With the help of some innovative gurus and mystics, I’ve created a track program that doesn’t suck, a sprint program that recruits fast kids, and a system of sprint training that produces measurable improvement.

“Any idiot can train himself into the ground; the trick is working in training to get gradually stronger.”  – Keith Brantly

Fast kids win 14 of the 18 events in a high school track meet.  It’s all about speed.

In the following weeks I will share all I know about sprinting with anyone patient enough to read it.

Till then, run fast.

Tony Holler


Follow me @pntrack on twitter.









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