GREENFIELD — Josh Holden was at the right place at the right time 12 years ago.
Fresh out of the University of Indianapolis and looking for a place to launch his career, Holden caught wind of a head wresting coach opening at Greenfield-Central High School from his father-in-law, who worked with Gary Pence, the Cougars head coach from 1977-79.
The now 34-year-old applied immediately, and once he was hired by his former high school, and at the time, current athletics director at Greenfield-Central, Kevin Horrigan, it proved to be a “perfect fit.”
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After an 8-12 inaugural season in 2004-05, Holden guided the Cougars to 10 winning campaigns in 11 years, a Hoosier Heritage Conference team title in 2011-12 and helped mentor an undefeated state champion in Josh Farrell at 152 pounds two years ago.
“It was my first job right out of college,” Holden reminisced. “This place is pretty special to me and always will be.”
The successes he achieved over the years and, more importantly, the connections he established with his student-athletes made his recent decision to resign all the more difficult.
Officially stepping down as Greenfield-Central’s head coach earlier this month, Holden has been named the new coach at Southport High School where he will lead the Cardinals, beginning this fall.
“Greenfield has been home for a long time, so it was tough to step down,” Holden said. “I know in my heart, though, it’s the right thing to do. When you know, you just know. It just ended up being the best choice for my family and allows me to give them more.
“I have nothing but great things to say about Greenfield and the community and the things the people out here have done for me. I would have been more than happy to stay here forever, but circumstances just came about and the best thing to do for my family was to take this job.”
From the first day, the Cougars’ wrestling program became Holden’s extended family when he took over for Lance Parsons, who coached the Cougars from 2001-04.
Involved in the sport for more than 30 years, Holden started wrestling in grade school and reached the pinnacle as a senior at Lawrence Central High School, winning the 140-pound state title with a 43-1 record in the last state meet ever conducted at Market Square Arena.
As a club wrestler, he captured two freestyle state titles, a pair of Greco state championships and graduated as Lawrence Central’s all-time winningest wrestler. In college, Holden earned four varsity letters, was a national qualifier and a two-time Academic All-American.
His passion carried over inside the Greenfield-Central wrestling room where 11 state qualifiers and seven state place winners were molded.
Holden steered the program to a dual-meet record of 165-95, second-best in school history behind Bill Yozipovich’s 19-year run of 247-81-3 from 1979-98.
In 2008-09, the Cougars reached 20 wins for the first time. The next season, Holden’s team continued to thrive and set another single-season record for victories at 21-5.
“Not only is he a good coach, he’s a great person,” Greenfield-Central athletics director Jared Manning said. “When you have someone that’s both of those and leaving a program, you’re going to miss him. Those are big shoes to fill and we’re going to have to find someone to do that.”
Longtime assistant coach Ed Hamant will serve as interim coach this season, said Manning, marking the seventh head coach in program history since Bob Miller instructed the school’s first team in 1964.
The 70-year-old Hamant, a Decatur Central graduate, started working with the program more than 30 years ago. In his career, he’s helped coach the team’s first state champion, Terry Edon, at 155 pounds in 1978-79 and every state qualifier the past four decades.
He’s also the official program team historian, documenting every statistic and athletic achievement.
“That’s the thing people don’t know. My coaches were unbelievable. Ed puts in a lot of time for the team and Greenfield-Central wrestling. People think I put in a ton of time, but he put in just as much if not more,” Holden said.
“He loves this program and these kids more than anything else. I’m never going to find an assistant coach like him. The program is in good hands.”
Holden’s fingerprints won’t fade anytime soon, however, and neither will the memories and impact his wrestlers made on him during his tenure.
Courted by Lawrence North prior to the 2012-13 season and offered the Wildcats wrestling head coaching position by athletics director Grant Nesbit, Holden, the father of two, almost left Greenfield-Central, but the time wasn’t right, he admits.
With the passing of Daniel “Duffy” Farrell, Josh’s father, in a tragic motorcycle accident the same year, Holden couldn’t. His heart wouldn’t allow it.
“I knew he was going to win one. I knew we just needed to hold things together for him that season. I knew he would anyway because he has such a great family and strong faith, but it was the wrong time to walk away,” Holden said. “That to me, going through that experience, while it wasn’t positive, it was special and more special than him winning a state title.
“The stuff these kids go through, they share it with you, you get to be part of that. I consider myself lucky to be part of these kids’ lives.”
Despite Holden’s career move, he will remain a teacher at Greenfield-Central while coaching at Southport until he can secure an opportunity within the Perry Township School system.
Holden’s wife, Monica, teaches in the Community School Corporation of Southern Hancock County at Brandywine Elementary, but they intend to relocate in the near future, which will put them closer to family in the Greenwood and Franklin area.
Until then, Holden says he will proudly bleed blue and red this wrestling season.
“I’m not leaving them, I’m just coaching a different team,” Holden remarked. “This year, in a way, I feel lucky because I have two teams to root for.
“It’s the kids and their character that makes the program, not the coaches. I know they’ll do well.”
Holden’s Coaching Record
Year, Record, State Qualifiers
# – Hoosier Heritage Conference champions
$ – Individual state champion
Josh Holden Highlights
Winning Percentage: 63%
State Qualifiers: 11
State Place Winners: 7
Individual State Champion: Josh Farrell (152 pound at 48-0), 2012-13
Individual Semistate Champions 2
Individual Regional Champions: 11
Individual Sectional Champions: 16
Individual HHC Champions: 20
HHC Team Champions: 1 (2012)
Indiana All-Stars: 6
Records: wins in single season (21-5 in 2010-11)