The two coached youth softball and then youth baseball together for a total of 29 years. They decided to retire after the season ended this past summer.
They point to the countless other volunteers who have made the youth softball and baseball league possible, including Eric Skoog and Rod Bradley, who have umpired for years; Jim Hugg, who was in charge of Little League for a long time; and Tim Weber.
“The danger in getting recognized is that we’re just two out of hundreds,” said Hollrah. “We’re not exceptional.”
They give the real credit for their years of coaching together to Chuck Ettleman.
Twenty-nine years ago, Ettleman was coaching the Little League softball Blue Jays that his daughter, Erin, was on. He had drafted Hollrah’s daughter, Rachel, and Ecklund’s daughter, Elizabeth, and asked the two men if they would help coach.
“Erin was older, so when Chuck migrated to the next level, we took over,” said Hollrah.
Similarly, Ecklund and Hollrah moved up to the next level with their daughters and coached the Senior League Cougars.
“Our daughters ended softball simultaneously, and we didn’t want to quit, so we shifted to the boys’ side,” Hollrah explained.
For 23 years, they were the coaches of the Reds in the Little League.
Co-coaching teams forged an even stronger friendship between the two.
“We have a lot in common,” said Ecklund. “We have the same goals and…”
“Same values,” said Hollrah, completing the sentence, as if illustrating how much the he and Ecklund think alike.
Yet their differences also meshed well as coaches.
“Our personalities complement each other,” Ecklund said. “And we just had different perspectives.”
What they enjoyed most about coaching was working with the kids and the memories created.
“A guy should write a short story or a book,” Hollrah commented.
He recalled the very first girls’ game he and Ecklund coached.
“The score was tied at the bottom of the sixth inning,” Hollrah said. “We had the winning run on third base. I’m sitting there and all I could think of was getting that winning run from here (third base) to there (home plate). That was my goal at that moment.
“To my left were a couple of girls in the dugout, and one turns to the other and asks, ‘Are you wearing eye shadow?’”
Ecklund recalled twin girls that he described as “real pepper pots,” who could also display some theatrics on the field.
“Every time one of them got bonked or something, they’d be down and next to death,” he said. “I’d go out there and say, ‘Well, we’re going to have to put somebody else in there,’ and they’d pop up. They’d heal immediately.”
Hollrah and Ecklund coached a number of teams that won season championships. One in particular sticks out in their minds though – the 1999 Reds. That team went 21-0.
“It was a fantastic team,” said Ecklund. “We were a little lucky with the players we got.”
Ecklund and Hollrah remember the kids they coached, even some of their mannerisms, and they remember the kids that played for the other teams.
“If I go to a high school football, basketball or baseball game, I remember if a kid was on the White Sox, Indians or Reds or another team,” said Hollrah. “I knew kids by their connections to teams.”
“There have been a lot of great relationships,” Ecklund added. “To this day, you’ll run into kids you coached years ago. They look so much different, but they call you by name.”
Most often that name is simply “Coach.”
Arlan Ecklund and Kent Hollrah also received their awards for other volunteer efforts.
Ecklund is the governor’s appointee to the District 3B Judicial Nominating Commission, is chair of the deacon board at First Baptist Church in Kiron, is co-chair of the Crawford County Republicans and is a former member of the Denison Aquatic Board.
Hollrah is on the board of elders at his church and has been for more than 25 years, served as past chairman of the elders for a number of years, assisted with confirmation classes as a mentor and teacher, regularly ushers and is an active member of the Development Unlimited Board and a past president of that organization.