Coaching legends, both Gateway graduates, content with decisions
On Saturday, Kirk “Corky” Semler will coach his final high school swim meet, as he guides his North Allegheny swimmers on the second day of the PIAA Class AAA championships at Bucknell University.
He steps away from the Tigers swim program after 35 years filled of memories, including being witness to dozens of WPIAL and PIAA individual and team champions crowned.
Paul Holzshu has seen it all in the realm of local basketball, both at the high school and collegiate levels, in 40 years of coaching after a successful playing career in both high school and college.
Holzshu decided to bring his coaching career to an end this winter, and he was on the sidelines for the final time on Feb. 8, as his Shaler varsity boys basketball team suffered a close 65-61 loss to Pine-Richland in its season finale.
Both Semler and Holzshu ended their coaching careers in 2013, but their careers gained a foundation in the late 1960s inside the walls of the schools in the Gateway School District.
“That foundation of growing up in the Monroeville area was so important,” Semler said.
“Gateway athletes had that certain toughness and resilience. I swam with some amazing athletes — Mel Nash and others. I learned so much from them. That has never left me. I am still black and gold with North Allegheny, but I am still a Gator at heart.”
Semler swam collegiately at Kent State University, but one of his greatest memories was teaming with Nash, Rob Creagan and Craig Simpson in 1970 to set the WPIAL record for the 200 medley relay — 1:41.2 — and the state record — 1:40.57.
The quartet was honored in 2007 with inclusion in the Gateway Sports Hall of Fame.
Forty-three years later, Semler's North Allegheny swimmers own the WPIAL boys 200 medley relay record with a time of 1:34.19 set in 2012. The Tigers won the WPIAL title again this year with a 1:34.39 recorded on Feb. 28.
The PIAA record for the 200 medley relay now is 1:31.83.
“If I had been Rip Van Winkle and went to sleep after we set that record and woke up today, it would be an amazing transformation to see,” Semler said.
“But because I've been involved so intimately with the progression all along and have seen the time get lower and lower, it doesn't seem all that crazy.”
Semler said he always paid attention to the Gateway swimmers at the WPIAL and PIAA meet, especially when they competed against his North Allegheny swimmers.
“We went to Gateway at different times, but they are my teammates,” Semler said. “I always take a special interest and see what they are doing. It is exciting to watch them swim fast.”
Semler said it was time to make a change, but, he said, he carries all 35 years with him in his heart.
“It's about the relationships you establish every step of the way, from the fellow coaches and swimming officials to the swimmers and parents,” Semler said.
“All the great memories are what I will cherish, and I thank all the people who have made it so very special.”
Holzshu said he became the coach he was because of the relationships developed at Gateway with junior high coaches Bob Holden and Rege Giles, as well as Gators varsity coaches Rege Laughlin and Bill Murphy.
“They saw things in my potential that allowed them to help me develop as a basketball player,” Holzshu said.
“To this day, I still interact with those guys and seek their advice. They weren't just coaches, but teachers and mentors.”
Holzshu played college basketball at Clemson in the Atlantic Coast Conference and then started his coaching career as a graduate assistant in the men's basketball program at IUP in the 1972-73 season.
He would coach at Slippery Rock University, Garrett Community College in Maryland, West Liberty State in West Virginia, East Allegheny High School, Franklin Regional High School and Penn State-New Kensington before becoming the athletic director at Yough High School in 1996.
Holzshu then came home.
He became the athletic director at Gateway in 1998 and then took the reigns of the varsity boys basketball team in 1999.
The Gateway boys made it to the WPIAL quarterfinals and the second round of the PIAA tournament in the 2001-02 season.
“It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to come back to my alma mater and be the athletic director and then be able to coach the boys team, Holzshu said.
Holzshu became the athletic director at Shaler in 2003 and the boys basketball coach since the middle of the 2008-09 season.
The Shaler boys made the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA quarterfinals last season. Holzshu contemplated retiring from coaching after that campaign.
“We knew we were losing quite a bit of seniors. I felt like I owed it to the younger kids to hang in there one more year,” he said.
“After 40 years, you kind of know when it's the right time and the right circumstances. I have nothing but good feelings about the 40 years, and I have no regrets with my decision.”
Holzshu will remain the Shaler athletic director for one more year.
“Coaching is so time consuming, it took me away from some of the responsibilities of being just an athletic director — to be able to go to other winter events and interact with other teams and athletes,” he said. “That's why I want to remain as athletic director for one more year. I am looking forward to one more year of just being the athletic director with no pressures other than my duties and requirements of being the AD.”
Holzshu was inducted into the Gateway Sports Hall of Fame in 2002.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.