Lady ‘Cats react to Holthus’ resignation
All the ingredients are present: five returning starters, a team coming off the most successful season in the past decade and a program that had finally turned the corner, combining a winning season with a first-round home court victory at sub-state.
The only thing missing for the Basehor-Linwood girls basketball team is the coach.
Tami Holthus resigned on Tuesday, March 13, after frequently coming under fire from parents of girls in the program during her two years in town.
"I think some people and some of the families are so caught up in what they want and what they think is best and they aren't willing to listen to others or look at the big picture of what she was building here," BLHS junior Cassie Lombardino said. "Some people are so caught up in themselves that it causes them to say things. They have no respect for authority or her. She doesn't deserve that at all, she has been nothing but awesome. I couldn't ask for anything better."
Lombardino said the vast majority of families were thrilled with the job Holthus was doing.
"So many people are for her and love her, and the minority is pushing her out," Lombardino said. "The majority is for her and knew what she was doing and knew she was for the team. We made strides because of what she was doing. She's not one to quit, so I can't imagine what drove her this far. She is so strong. She's not a quitter. Most of the players are torn apart by this."
Brooke Sanders said she is not looking forward to next season as much as she had been.
"I think so much of her," Sanders said of her former coach. "I couldn't think more of her. This hurts so bad. It wasn't fair for her to have to go through this. I will respect her decision and support her. I love her with all of my heart, she is awesome."
The criticism of Holthus ranged from the concerned, such as the KSHSAA rules violations, to the absurd, such as when she was chastised after a win this season for the tempo that her team had played offensively.
"She gets harassed," Lombardino said. "She has done everything right. She hasn't broken rules or any of the other false things that people are saying. She has done so much for our program. She is the best coach anyone could ask for. This whole thing is ridiculous."
Most players were shocked when they were informed of the resignation. Sophomore Bren Koontz had a promising conversation about the future with Holthus late in the season.
"She led on that she was looking forward to being there for a long time, and getting the program going and getting to state," Koontz said.
Lombardino was able to glean a little bit more into the coach's turbulent relationship with some of the parents.
"I was talking to her (two weeks ago) and she was saying how it was hard to stay the course," Lombardino said. "That is the only thing that she said. I didn't know this much had been going on behind the scenes because she kept her poise really well. It was hard for her. I didn't think anything would come out of that."
Lombardino believes most families in the program were passively supportive of Holthus. The small number of aggressively negative parents were the voices that were heard.
"There were only a few families that influenced this," Lombardino said. "That is why everyone is so shocked and angry about this. Most parents know she is the best thing for us.
"The parents that disliked everything were heard. Not enough of the parents that were for her spoke out. A lot of people are planning to speak up now and go to board meetings. Different sets of parents have been calling the board office and (AD, Joe) Keeler and letting them know we support Tami."
The junior center was most appalled by a specific group of the dissenters.
"Some of the parents' kids weren't even in high school yet," Lombardino said. "That is the shocker. I don't know what their reasoning is. I think one of the reasons might be playing time or she wasn't coaching the team the way that they wanted."
An interesting comparison could be made between the boys and girls programs at BLHS. Holthus and boys coach Mike McBride both were able to turn downtrodden programs around this season.
McBride, a charismatic coach with an easy smile, won with a quick, gunning, perimeter-oriented team that could light up scoreboards. Holthus, a reserved, calculating, and intense coach, won with defense by slowing down the tempo of games. Her offense was conservative, often distributing the ball around the wing until an open look could be created in the post.
Holthus never seemed to connect with most parents or fans of the team. She was especially testy after defeats, when she often wore a grimace and words were short.
Did Lombardino see a double-standard between programs?
"Yeah I do," Lombardino said. "They (McBride and Holthus) have totally different personalities and it seemed like people judged her without getting to know what she was about. That is a big problem. She just isn't as outgoing as McBride."
One candidate to replace Holthus is current assistant coach Noah Simpson.
"I think he is a really good coach," Koontz said. "He is a people person. He played at Basehor and I am sure he would be really excited if he were named coach. I think he would be a great coach."
The girls were split on whether the coaching change would affect the momentum the program gained this season.
"I think we will be able to," Koontz said. "I think it was the drive of the girls that wanted to win that got us over the hump. I think we took the steps this year. The coach has a lot do with it, but the girls have the biggest impact."
Lombardino wasn't as sure.
"I think it will have an effect on us," Lombardino said. "I am going to try as hard as I can to not split up the team and not have bad feelings. That is the last thing that you need when you are trying to play as a team. A lot of people love her. The best thing would be to go out there and give it everything that you have. That is what she would want."
Two words concluded Holthus' final letter to the team. 'Play on.'
"That's what she wants us to do," Lombardino said. "I feel like now we have to play to honor her."
The Lady Bobcats still have five returning starters. They will still attempt to build on a foundation of the turnaround that took place this season. The promise is there, even if some of the joy has been trampled.
"This is definitely a bump in the road that we're going to go through with all of this because she was such a big part of everyone's life," Lombardino said. "It's hard to be excited about the season right now. I still want to go out there and compete and stay the course like she would want us to."