Shadyside’s Holenka receives OVAC’s top coaching honor

It’s been quite a year for Mark Holenka.

The second-year Shadyside football coach gave away his oldest daughter, Ashley, for marriage last summer, guided his Tigers to an OVAC title and an eventual berth in the Division VI state championship game in the fall and then watched his youngest daughter Hayley play a key role for the Lady Tigers’ trip to the Division IV state tournament.

If that wasn’t enough, Holenka learned he and his wife Lana are expecting grandparents as Ashley and her husband, John Farrier, are expecting their first child.

“We’ve been blessed,” Holenka said. “You get to play for the state title, your daughter’s team goes to the state and then more good news with finding out we’re going to be grandparents around Thanksgiving. It’s been like a storybook type 2010-11 for us.”

And then, on Monday, as he was celebrating his 58th birthday, Holenka was announced the recipient of the prestigious Bill VanHorne OVAC/Wheeling News Register Coach of the Year honor as voted on by a panel of media and OVAC brass, putting the ultimate finishing touches on a year to remember.

“This award is about the team, the coaching staff and the community,” Holenka said. “This is their award, and I just happen to be the figurehead.”

Holenka edged out the other finalists, Mark Batton (Magnolia, football), Tina Yates (Shadyside, girls basketball), Paul Jackson (Parkersburg South, wrestling) and George Vargo (Madonna, boys’ basketball).

“I had no idea I would win, but I knew whatever way it went, I was just honored to be a finalist,” Holenka said. “Being that it manifested into what it did is a tribute, I guess, to the state of Ohio because of how much weight it carries. It’s got some clout in some people’s mind and thought of so religiously. Whatever way the cookie crumbled was okay with me.”

In his second season at the helm, Holenka guided the Tigers to a 9-1 regular season the OVAC 2-A title. He then led the Tigers to the Division VI state final against Delphos St. John after they knocked off then unbeatens Bridgeport and Mogadore in the regional final and state semifinal, respectively.

The Tigers were dealt a lopsided defeat in the state final by the juggernaut Blue Jays, but by the time the team arrived back to Belmont County, most of the players and coaches had realized their accomplishments.

“Obviously, we had a bad taste in our mouth,” Holenka said. “We went with high expectations, but when we sat down and looked at all of the things we’d accomplished, it was a great feeling.”

The Tigers accomplished all of those things coming off a 6-6 season in which they qualified for the playoffs and won a road game at Columbiana before falling. They returned a solid core, but some of the players were rather green when it came to having to log quality varsity action.

“How we went about the season is a testament to our coaches on how they developed this team,” Holenka said. “The kids really took to the teaching and as the season went along we were a much better team by games eight, nine, 10 and so on.”

Holenka’s coaching staff was one of the best around with Mark Bonar, Gregg Bonar, Mike Kernik, John Grinch and Jason Merryman.

“I never want to say and think about the coaches as ‘my’ coaches,” Holenka said. “We also coach and do this together and this award is theirs as well as it is mine, but I am very flattered and proud to pick it up for them.”

Holenka becomes the second winner from Shadyside. He joined Tom Vichich, who won in 1977 after he led the Tigers to the Class A state track championship in 1976.

This marks the first time since 2008 that there were two finalists from the same school. Holenka and his daughter talked about the award recently.

“I would have been fine either way if Tina (Yates) had won,” Holenka said. “I was kidding my daughter, saying ‘that if we don’t win, she helped us lose it.'”

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