By CARA COOPER
It all started with a book.
When Martinsville senior Mariah Holland was in second grade she wrote a book titled “The Adventures of a Coach and his Daughter.” The premise was a simple one – a father leads the Martinsville Lady Bulldogs to a state championship with his daughter and her friends as members of the team. The story was so well-written that Mariah won a contest and had the story published and bound as a hardback.
Now, more than a decade after the story was written, the book seems to distort the lines of fiction, with Mariah and her dad, Martinsville Girls Basketball Head Coach Charlie Holland, on their way to the VHSL 2A State Quarterfinals Thursday, just three games away from a state championship.
Coach Holland said the book seems like something of an “omen”.
“You have to see it to believe it because it’s like she walked the earth before,” Coach Holland said. “She saw this premonition. We haven’t won the state championship yet and I can’t tell you that we are but just to be in that situation. She wrote this book when she was I believe 7 or 8 years old… and I’ll never, ever forget it. It’s amazing.”
Even if the journey doesn’t end with a championship, the two Hollands have travelled a long road to get to this point. The elder Holland began coaching Mariah when she was just five years old playing at the YMCA and the local parks and recreation program. At the time he was also an assistant with the Martinsville boys basketball team, and Mariah would watch the way he coached the boys and learned to mimic the drills they would do.
It wasn’t long before Mariah was making her own plans for when she would become a Bulldog, helping recruit other current players like Jalexus Mitchell, Brittany Turner and Taylar Brown.
Having her dad lead the way was also a major part of that gameplan.
“One day I was in practice… and Mariah looked at me, she was probably in about fifth grade and she was like ‘daddy, have you ever thought about coaching girls? We know every drill you do,’” Coach Holland said. “So when Mariah was in about the sixth grade she started recruiting the players that she thought should be on the girls basketball team and she said ‘daddy, if you put all of us together and work with us the way you work with the boys I think we can go to state.’”
Coach Holland, a 1985 graduate of Martinsville who also coached the Lady Bulldogs’ softball team when his older daughter played before she graduated in 2009, took over the girls’ program in 2010. Since then he’s relied on that same core group of players that his daughter grew up playing with.
Now, as a senior on the squad, Coach Holland says that after years by his side his daughter now acts as an extension of him on the court, and they typically talk over defenses and gameplan on the sidelines before games.
While being the coach’s daughter is never easy, Coach Holland said he’s seen his daughter take on the pressure with poise beyond her years. He said the thing he’s most proud of is her ability to support all of her teammates and know her role on the team.
Mariah said that the job of coach’s daughter can be “intense,” but it has actually made her a better player.
“People just don’t realize, everybody else on the team after a game you can go home and you can be like ‘man, this happened’ and you can kind of vent a little bit or kind of get out of that element whereas for me and him it’s like 24/7. I have to take that home,” Mariah said. “I’m hearing about the game, I’m hearing instant replay all day and all night but it actually really is helpful because I get to hear him and he helps me improve and talks about what I can do to help and the role I’m supposed to be playing. But intense is a good word to sum it up.”
“We’ve had our battles. Everything hasn’t always been peachy cream but one thing I’ve always said… when we’re in the gym we are coach and player but when we get home we can talk about it as father and daughter,” Coach Holland said. “There’s been tears. She’s cried, I’ve cried because I had to learn to understand.”
Coach Holland said the toughest thing for him was learning to separate being a parent and being a coach, and he still catches himself when he thinks he’s being harder on his daughter than the rest of the team.
Even though Mariah has had to share her dad with dozens of other players over the years, she said that actually makes the team feel closer to her. It makes every teammate an extension of her own family.
“That is the best part of it because I feel even more connected in that way,” she said. “We talk all the time about a team being a family but it really does mean that to me. My dad is a coach. My aunt coaches too. He, I don’t even know how to put it into words, he just plays this role for every girl and I just see it. It’s like they’re all my sisters and they’re all his daughters so there’s nobody else that I would rather have doing this besides him.”
The time for father and daughter Holland to share on the court is coming to a close, with each game a potential season-ender. But there are still dreams both Hollands would like to see come true. A dream that was written in a book back in 2006.
“When you’re a dad, when your kids have dreams you try to always make those dreams come true,” Coach Holland said. “But this isn’t just about her, it’s about those 10 girls. It’s her writing that book and her wanting that dream for these girls on this team, and her wanting that dream for me and her. It’s just kind of a blessing from God to be able to try to fulfill that dream.”
“It’s kind of blowing my mind right now because when I put it into perspective I’m like wow, there’s maybe three, four games left in my entire career and it could end in a state championship, being a state champion and having a ring,” Mariah said. “So I just don’t even know. I’m still trying to soak it in but it’s just a crazy feeling. It’s really exciting.”
Whether the season ends with a storybook finish or not, Coach Holland said the journey has been just as sweet as whatever the destination may be.
“I graduated from Martinsville, I played at Martinsville, my kids always wanted to be a Bulldog, they always dreamed of going to a state championship game. Now I’ve got one playing for a state championship,” Coach Holland said. “I mean what more can you ask for?”
This story first appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin in February 2017