Wyoming — Mr. Hollern wants you on the team.
That’s the message students hear from Athletic Director Ted Hollern in the Wyoming High School hallways. It might be bowling, tennis, baseball or football. It could be track, cross country, soccer or volleyball.
“Opportunity to play is very important,” Hollern said about making sure students know of those opportunities. “We want you to play.”
Hollern looks at the big picture of what athletics offers students. Once the team roster is filled and students take the court or field, the life lessons and fun can begin. High school sports are often some of the most memorable years for athletes, he said.
As summer’s heat fades and the logistics of directing fall’s six sports create an elaborate crisscross of schedules, Hollern talked about beginning his 26th year in the district.
“The highlights are the kids, watching them compete, having success and celebrating success and having them learn the lessons of athletics. It’s fun to watch how much pride they have in some of the things they do.”
Take junior bowler Kaitlyn Horton, for example. As Hollern passes her in the school cafeteria, he quickly recalls last year when she made four strikes following a rough start: “I told you you could do it, and all the sudden you did do it!”
‘I’m more of a student advocate, almost to a fault.’– Athletic Director Ted Hollern
Hollern’s pep talk helped Kaitlyn turn things around and she hasn’t had a bad game since.
“He encourages you to do better even when you think you can’t,” the bowler said. “He’s always there for people no matter what you are going through, and he’s always positive.”
There are countless stories like that, of Hollern celebrating a student’s success or lifting them up with the words, “You can.”
“I like to go out to the kids and make that connection, ‘Hey, you have a heck of a shot…’ Their eyes just light up,” he said. “They love hearing that someone notices them out there.”
District athletic trainer Tyrell Tolliver said Hollern embodies what it is to be a Wyoming Wolf.
“He’s at everything — all the sporting events, always super positive no matter how the game is going. He’s always cheering kids on; whether we are winning by 50 or losing by 50, he has the same attitude about everything. He’s probably our biggest fan.”
Advocacy and PB&J
Hollern is that scrappy kid turned college football player turned coach and teacher and athletic director. He’s been a staple in the district since 1997 when he started as football coach and social studies teacher at the former Wyoming Rogers High School. He began as AD in 1998.
Thousands of students have come through the athletic program during his tenure. His office drawers contain photos, newspaper clippings and memorabilia from former students and teams.
“Wyoming is a very, very special place,” he said. “The students come from diverse backgrounds and cultures and they all come in to be part of the Wyoming culture …They are some of the best kids you will ever run into. I never really considered going to any other place because once I was here, I felt welcomed and part of a family.”
Hollern was football coach for three years and coached a year of basketball as well. He spent several years as assistant principal, but was happy to return to the athletic director position when the district combined its two high schools, Wyoming Park and Wyoming Rogers, into one 12 years ago. It felt like a better fit than disciplinarian.
“It’s not really in my character to boss kids around and give detentions. I’m more of a student advocate, almost to a fault,” he said.
One way he connects with students is with his favorite lunch. He’s got ever-present jars of peanut butter and jelly in his office and has supplied hundreds of sandwiches over the years, on bread or crackers. It’s the perfect nourishment for hungry athletes, he said: “All you need is peanut butter and jelly – just spread it with a spoon.”
The Love of the Game
Wyoming Assistant Principal Rhonda Varney was a student in Hollern’s U.S. History class her junior year, which was his first year at Rogers. She often helped him with football tasks, such as team awards. He encouraged students to lead and gave them space to do so, she said.
“Twenty-six years later I still see Ted encouraging scholars to lead,” Varney said. “I still have the RHS football sweatshirt that Ted gave me, which just so happens to be the first one he ever ordered.
“At WHS, we focus on being kind, compassionate, and gracious and I would say that Ted is all three of those things. … In the office we like to say, ‘Don’t worry, Teddy’s got it!’ He brings positivity to every situation and can be counted on to listen to different perspectives.”
Hollern, who grew up as one of six children in Grand Rapids playing ball with two older and bigger brothers, was a football player at Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School and Central Michigan University. He started his career in Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in 1985 as a teacher and coach for football, baseball, basketball and track over seven years.
He married his high school sweetheart, Maribeth, a cheerleader, 38 years ago. Their five children, Teddy, Mckenzie, Nate, Abbie and Nick, were always involved in sports, with all three sons going on to play football in college.
“Everyone goes out for a sport in our family, and I try to pass that love of the game on to the kids in Wyoming, too,” he said.
Tracking the Details
From equipment to uniforms, schedules to buses, and officials, volunteers or delays — there’s always something for an athletic director to think about, Hollern said, quickly giving credit to his longtime secretary Lynette Paxson and game manager Chuck Mann, who help with all those details.
“The big challenge with directing athletics is the logistics of everything,” Hollern said, describing his method of planning months ahead and double- and triple-checking that all the pieces are in place as game days approach.
There’s always the chance for the unanticipated — the first Wolves football game of the year was canceled due to a tornado and quickly rescheduled for the next day.
But Hollern looks at those challenges as opportunities to use perseverance and step up his game. “Whatever is the most challenging is always the most rewarding,” he said.
It’s the same life lessons he’s shared with Wyoming students for so long, and watching them shine is the biggest reward, he said.
“The kids always make it fun and keep it interesting, and I am very proud of them.”