Lessons of the Game
Punahou Athletic Director Tom Holden Prepares To Retire
In his high school glory days, Tom Holden nabbed a football MVP as a running back. He's been running with the ball ever since.
In 1984, the Ohio native was scouting job prospects in Hawai‘i when he ran into Junior School principal Duane Yee. "He was a Woody Hayes [former Ohio State football coach] fan and I knew Woody, so there was a connection," recalled Holden. "Two weeks later Duane called me and said, ‘Tom, I have a position open teaching fifth-grade science and math, but you have to let me know right now.' I said, 'I'm there.' Hung up and the rest is history."
Upon arriving in the islands, Holden discovered to his surprise that his fifth-grade duties included teaching Hawaiian Studies. He got off to a rocky start. "I remember drawing the Big Island on top and O‘ahu down here," he recalls with a chuckle, "and the kids were just laughing and they said, ‘Mr. Holden, that's not right.' I was just jamming to stay ahead of the game."
The trim, energetic Holden stepped into a variety of positions: He coached offense for JV football, taught K - 2 P.E. from 1986 - 1996; served as head coach for varsity football and summer school director in 1992 before tackling the position of Athletic Director in 1998.
As Punahou AD, he oversees an expansive program with nearly 1,100 athletes on 114 teams that compete in 21 different sports, some with three levels - intermediate, JV and varsity. "Between Kamehameha Schools and Punahou, there's no school in the nation that has as many interscholastic teams," said Holden. "The average number of teams at a normal high school is 35."
His tenure has been marked by a tremendous growth in interscholastic sports. Holden, who currently serves as ILH president, has witnessed the number of schools in the ILH leap from 17 to 27. While exciting, the rapid growth also has raised challenges.
"It puts a strain on existing facilities because many of these schools don't have facilities," he explained. "So we reach out to those schools. But trying to meet the needs of all 27 schools - that range in size from having 60 students to 3,800 students and everything in between - creates strains on different fronts."
In addition to supporting the introduction of judo and air precision riflery, Holden was instrumental in establishing sailing as a third water sport, after kayaking and canoe paddling. "The ILH was the first interscholastic sailing program in the nation," he said of the league-sanctioned sport that launched in 2003. Twelve schools now compete in sailing, one of the only sports that has boys and girls competing together on the same team.
Holden has also been part of the rising prominence of Punahou athletics. In 2008, the school captured a record-breaking 16 state championship titles and its athletics program was ranked No. 1 among 38,000 high schools by Sports Illustrated magazine. The honor, he emphasized, reflected on the overall caliber of Hawai‘i athletes.
Trophies aside, Holden believes that athletics offers deeper, more enduring lessons. "We hope athletics will instill a sense of pride and humility, not only in the athletes themselves, but in their team and in their school," he said. "We have many teams here that have not had a success of won-loss, but are extremely successful in the experience they provide for the kids: The bonding that goes on; the connection between athletes and coaches; the discovery of what it means to be on a team and support each other. That's what I look at and say, ‘Yes, they've been successful.' The wins are a byproduct of a program of excellence, they're not the goal."
Kale Ane, associate director of athletics, says that Holden has positioned these values at the center of the department. He also credited the AD with infusing a personal passion and love for the school into his everyday interactions. "He's so giving of his time," marveled Ane.
"Whether it's a student, coach, parent or the league - he makes time for everyone."
Holden says he'll miss the camaraderie of Associate Directors Jeff Meister and Kale Ane '71 and Facilities Manager Scott Metcalf '74. "This has been a team from day one," he said. "The adversities we've faced, we've faced them together. That's going to be tough, leaving these guys."
As he prepares to exit the field, Holden looks back on his years at Punahou with great pride.
"In every phase of Punahou, excellence is stressed," he said. "You're part of this unique school that allows you to have initiative, allows you to come up with ideas they'll support. That's what's special about Punahou. Wherever you go, the talent that comes out of this school is just mind-boggling. And that's what I'm glad I've been a part of."
Punahou Names New Athletic Director
Jeaney Garcia, athletic director at the independent, K – 12 Brentwood School in Los Angeles, will replace Tom Holden this summer as Punahou’s new athletic director, the school announced Feb. 18.
Garcia, who spent part of her childhood in Hawai‘i, has worked in education for more than 20 years. Previously, Garcia worked at The Webb School in Los Angeles as athletic director, P.E. teacher and dorm parent, and at Lake Forest Academy in Illinois as assistant athletic director.
“We are pleased to welcome Ms. Garcia to Punahou School,” said President Jim Scott ’70. “The caliber of her experience along with her values of compassion, creativity and service align with our school’s vision for how athletics can shape positive lifetime values.”
Garcia said: “I am honored to be one of the newest team members in a community dedicated to excellence. I look forward to being part of an enthusiastic and caring environment at a school whose mission is to provide the best experiences possible for every child.”