INDEPENDENCE — Van Holstad says he’s a wrestling junkie.
It’s why he’s been Central High School’s head wrestling coach for 21 years.
And now, after more than two decades of dedicating himself to the Panthers wrestling program, Holstad is stepping down.
“I’ve been at it for 21 years at Central, and we have the program in a pretty good spot to have someone come in and take it to the next level,” Holstad said. “It was time for me (to step down), and it was a good time for the program, looking for a little bit of a change.”
He’s not ready to give the sport up entirely.
“I know I’m probably going to do some officiating, because I want to still stay in the game, I love wrestling,” he said. “I’ve done it for most of my life, and so it’s one of those things where I’m not going leave the game entirely, and I’m not going to leave Central either. I’m always going to be a Panther. So, I’ll be there to support and help out as much as I can. I’m excited to see what a new leader is going to do and where they take the program.”
The big question that lies ahead of him now that he is no longer coaching is, what’s next? Being just a teacher is a totally new road for him.
“I don’t really know what’s going to happen, because I’ve never taught without coaching,” he said. “In 1998, I was hired to teach (social studies) there and then two weeks before the season, I was tapped for the head coach. So, you know, first-year teacher, first-year head coach. That was fun,” he said, laughing. “I’ve never done the teaching thing alone, so we’ll see what that brings.”
Holstad said his time as coach at CHS wouldn’t have been what it was without the relationships with his wrestlers and his assistant coaches.
“Just seeing those kids grow and being with the coaches,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun as we explore the thing that I love. … Being able to take kids through that experience, the ups and the downs, to ride through that with the other coaches who I’ve had, which, I’ve had coaches stick with me for quite a while. Arnold Garcia has been there the whole time, his son Nathan has been in the system for a long time, so I’ve had a lot of stability in my coaches, and I’ve really enjoyed their commitment and time, as well as the kids.”
After 21 years, memories and experiences blur together, but Holstad said the experiences that stick out more vibrantly than others were the kids who put in the extra work and did all they could to improve.
“They may not win as many matches as you’d like them to, but they’re still the ones that stick out to me, and a part of my great experience as the head coach at Central,” Holstad said. “They may not get their name in the paper, but they have a spot in my heart.”
It’s been a long ride for Holstad, and while he’s ready to hand the reins over to a new head coach, he said he’ll miss it.
“I just want to thank everyone who has helped to build the wrestling program at Central,” he said. “It’s been one of those things where we’ve really built it, and I hope that program stays strong, and it’s only going to stay strong from the people who volunteer and show up for the matches, so I hope that continues.”