ENID, Okla. —
It’s no secret many communities identify with, and are identified by, their local prep sports teams.
A good season by a team can uplift an entire town’s spirits. Likewise, that same identity and pride can be attached to those who do well and bring a favorable light on their community. Of course, that also places a large burden sometimes upon those who are put in such a position, particularly if that is a young person who still is maturing. There are numerous examples of those who are placed on a pedestal, but fall under the weight of sometimes unrealistic and lofty expectations.
However, this is a story of the former, not the latter.
Friday morning our executive editor passed along news of the death of former Enid High School football standout and ex-NFL player John Holt. I didn’t know Holt, as he graduated from EHS in 1977 and ended his playing career in 1988, long before my arrival on the scene. At first I approached this as any other story. But I soon realized it was a little more than that, and knew it from the reaction in our newsroom.
To digress for just a moment, it is a continuing educational process for folks like me who grew up and went to school in large metropolitan areas to understand and grasp the impact prep sports have on so many “smaller” communities like Enid and surrounding towns. In big cities, pro sports and major college sports are all that really matter. Preps get lost in the news shuffle.
Even though I went to a smaller Catholic school in metro Detroit (around 600 students), our sports, while pretty successful, still were seen mainly for entertainment value and did not necessarily attach great meaning or measure to the community. Oh sure we had a couple of famous alums. One was Joe DeLamielleure who went on to play professional football for the Buffalo Bills was an all-pro and is enshrined the NFL Hall of Fame. The other we didn’t talk too much about. John Norman Collins went on to become a serial killer.
Enid has been fortunate to see many successful alumni come out of Enid High School and Holt was one of those. When I shared the news about Holt’s passing to those in our newsroom among those who remembered him, there was genuine surprise and sadness at his untimely passing at age 53 after battling an illness. And I soon found out why.
Talking to those who knew him best or played alongside him, there was universal sentiment that Holt was one of those folks anybody would have been the better for knowing. From former coaches to former teammates, the accolades and the fond memories came easily. And clearly it wasn’t just the sort of perfunctory expression that some feel compelled to make when discussing the passing of somebody. No, their words were dripping with sincerity. There was genuine sadness, but at the same time real happiness when remembering Holt and that’s probably the greatest measure of a man’s existence.
This isn’t to put Holt on a pedestal, but it is an opportunity to say, “well done.” He made Enid proud. And I wish I had known him.
There will be a memorial service for family and friends of Holt at 11 a.m. Monday at Westside Church of God In Christ in Enid
Ruthenberg is sports editor at the News & Eagle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org