Barry McNamara  |  Published August 07, 2020

Building on a Hall of Fame Career

Eric Holmes leverages record-setting track and field performances to teach students as a high school coach.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Eric Holmes is already in Monmouth College’s M Club Hall of Fame for his multiple All-American honors as a thrower in track and field.

TRACK HALL OF FAMER: Eric Holmes with his family in front of the iconic Hollywood, California, si... TRACK HALL OF FAMER: Eric Holmes with his family in front of the iconic Hollywood, California, sign. But like his Fighting Scots coach Roger Haynes, who was inducted in 1997 and continues to add to his amazing athletic résumé, Holmes isn’t finished accumulating Hall of Fame-worthy credentials.

As the head boys track coach and throws coach at Fort Osage High School in Independence, Missouri, where he’s taught special education since 2002 and will soon teach social studies, Holmes has worked with a pair of state champion shot putters and numerous All-State athletes.

To help three-time state champ Asia Cole, Holmes used some advice he’d received at Monmouth from Haynes and from throws coach Brian Woodard.

“I was very hard on myself as an athlete,” said Holmes, a 2001 graduate who lives in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, with his wife, Nicole, and two children, ages 14 and 9. “That would cause me to spiral downward sometimes. Asia was similar to me in that respect. So I’d make sure to be as patient and forgiving as possible with her and tell her that’s it OK to back off sometimes, to be loose, to have fun. She was so naturally gifted. The focus was on having her be mentally there, and that’s something that Coach Haynes and Coach Woodard taught me.”

Talked into competition

Holmes, who grew up in Victoria, Illinois, recalls having to be nudged into competing in track for ROWVA High School.

“One of my buddies, Luke Rylander, talked me into it,” said Holmes, who was also a lineman on the football team and a “big guy who could box out and set picks” on the basketball squad.

Holmes appreciated the coaching he received at ROWVA from several individuals, including his head track coach in the 1990s, Bob Walck, current head coach Chris Campagna, and throws coach Brian Hall, a 1986 Monmouth graduate.

“Brian made a nice correction with him,” said Campagna, who joined ROWVA’s staff in 1994. “We realized he was going to be pretty good when he made a throw in our cafeteria area that went all the way across the room and off the far wall.”

Holmes’s ascent was slowed by a sprained ACL that robbed him of much of his senior football and basketball seasons. He rebounded to do well in track, but performed better at the big Peoria Journal-Star meet than at state a few days later where, he put it bluntly, “I choked, basically,” finishing ninth when only the top eight were named All-State.

What Holmes failed to mention, but was recalled by Campagna, was Holmes winning that Journal-Star meet, where his top challenge came from Peoria Manual’s Sergio McClain, the reigning Mr. Basketball in Illinois.

“Eric’s best at that time was around 51 feet, but at the Peoria meet, he popped a throw of 54’9 to beat McClain and set the ROWVA record, which still stands today,” said Campagna.

Off to Monmouth

While McClain headed off to play basketball at the University of Illinois, Holmes took the short trip to Monmouth after being impressed by the sustained interest of the track coaches and by the way he was treated on his campus visit. He soon ramped up his knowledge of his sport.

“I learned every day, every year from Coach Haynes and Coach Woodard,” said Holmes, who studied history and political science. “Coach Haynes is a fountain of knowledge about every event. I learned all kinds of helpful technical things, and also all about strength training, plyometric-explosive training, those types of things.”

“Coach Haynes is a fountain of knowledge about every event. I learned all kinds of helpful technical things, and also all about strength training, plyometric-explosive training, those types of things.”
– Eric Holmes ’01

Holmes realized he’d arrived as a college track athlete at an indoor meet hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where he unleashed his first 50-foot throw with the four-pound-heavier college shot put.

“I had no idea how far it went, but it felt good,” said Holmes of the Oshkosh throw, which broke Monmouth’s freshman record. “That’s when I thought, ‘This is something I can compete at.’”

Holmes won four Midwest Conference shot put titles, heaving a conference meet-record throw of 55 feet, 1-3/4 inches his senior season. That mark is still the conference indoor record.

As good as that performance was, there were two other throws during that 2001 season that Holmes remembers more.

The first came a few weeks later at the NCAA indoor meet, back at Oshkosh, where Holmes launched a throw of 56 feet, 3-1/4 inches that’s still the school record. It lifted him to a national runner-up finish.

Holmes expected similar dominance during the ensuing outdoor season, but his progress was slow.

“I don’t know if it was overtraining or not, but I was having a hard, hard time,” he said. “But what I remember was that I finished strong. I qualified for nationals, and on one of the last throws of my career, I moved into fourth place and made All-American. Looking back, I feel as good about that throw as I do about the one that placed me second indoors.”

The throw traveled 54 feet 1-3/4 inches, the fifth-best outdoor mark in school history. Holmes also holds the No. 2 distance.

“Eric worked extremely hard,” said Haynes, acknowledging Holmes’s knee injury. “He worked out and threw with a significant brace but never let it get in his way of effort or performance. He was also one of the most well-liked kids by his teammates.”

During his time at Monmouth, Holmes set a pair of very lofty goals: he wanted to be a national champion, and he wanted to throw 60 feet. Although he didn’t quite reach either mark, Holmes is still the gold standard among Midwest Conference shot putters, and he was the first Monmouth athlete to place as high as second indoors.

“Sometimes I go back in time and think, ‘If I did this, or if I did that, could I have made those goals?’” said Holmes. “But I really hit it about as far as I could.”

That sounds like another lesson that Holmes can apply when working with his athletes at Fort Osage: If you reach for the stars and fall short, you might at least touch the sky.

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