By David Fong
CINCINNATI — It was never Holly (Rhoades) Saylor’s intention to smash through barriers, break new ground, destroy stereotypes or do what few had ever done before … or since.
All Saylor wanted to do was play the sports she loved.
While doing the latter as good or better than any athlete in Troy High School history, however, Saylor was able to accomplish all of the former.
“I guess I had the advantage of being a little naive at the time; I really didn’t pay too much attention to some of the things that were going on around me,” said Saylor, a 1987 Troy graduate. “I really just wanted to play. To me, it really wasn’t a big deal when I made varsity in three sports as a freshman. I didn’t really think of it as me playing on varsity against older girls. I was just doing something I loved.
“When I played baseball with the boys through seventh grade, that wasn’t a big deal to me, either. I was definitely a crowd favorite, but I don’t think I realized that at the time, either. I knew all the parents cheered louder for me and would congratulated me after the games and I realize that looking back on it now. But at the time, I was pretty oblivious to that … I just loved to play.”
Saylor — who did play baseball in Troy through seventh grade in the late 1970s and early 1980s, something almost unheard of at the time — would go on to become one of the most versatile athletes in Troy High School history. She earned 12 varsity letters — four each in soccer, basketball and softball — during her career, something only a handful of athletes, male or female, have ever done in Troy history.
All of her accomplishments have earned Saylor a spot in the Trojan Athletic Hall of Fame Class of 2016. This year’s class will be honored prior to the Troy football team’s Friday home opener against Trotwood-Madison, then again at a Saturday banquet to take place at the Crystal Room in Troy.
She’ll be joined in this year’s class by Harold “Corky” Valentine (class of 1948, baseball, basketball and football), Kees Scarff (class of 1963, football, baseball and basketball), Mark Elliott (class of 1968, baseball) and Julia Reel Niles (class of 1992, basketball).
Rhoades said she’s always had a love of sports, which she credits to growing up in the same house with three brothers, all of whom were close to her in age.
“I grew up with three brothers in a neighborhood full of boys,” she said. “I think we had a popular house to congregate at, because with four kids, you already had half a baseball team. There was always a baseball game or a soccer game or whatever going on. We grew up in an age where that’s what kids did — they went outside and played and figured it out. Playing sports it just what we did. I think that’s why sports came somewhat easy to me.”
It certainly showed when she got to Troy High School.
In soccer, she was a four-time All-Greater Miami Valley Conference selection, a team captain her junior and senior years, an all-area selection as a junior and senior and an All-Ohio award winner as a senior. In basketball, she earned All-GMVC honors and was a team captain her junior and senior years. In softball, she was a four-time All-GMVC selection.
Following her high school career, Saylor would go on to play soccer at the University of Cincinnati — but always held a spot in her heart for all the sports she played.
“Soccer was probably my favorite sport, but I really did love all three,” she said. “The great thing about playing three sports was that by the time one season was over, you were ready to move on to the next one. Soccer was my first love, but I loved playing basketball in the hot gym and running suicides and then walking outside and feeling that cold blast of air hit you in the face.
“I loved playing softball because I had more of my friends play softball and we had a coach (Bob Barrett) who was hilarious and fun. Here’s a funny story — I almost didn’t play softball because I thought everything was underhand. I had played baseball so long that I thought whenever you threw a softball, it had to be underhand.”
In the age of sports specialization — in which high school athletes focus on one or two sports — there’s a chance another athlete with Saylor’s versatility won’t come along anytime soon. The trend toward sports specialization is one that bothers Saylor, whose husband played football at UC and whose three daughters are all involved in different sports.
“Absolutely, 100 percent; I hate it,” she said. “I hate it when kids are forced to choose — especially if they are forced to choose a sport at a young age before they get to high school. In high school, I can understand it, but I don’t like it when kids are forced to choose a sport. I loved being able to play three sports.”
Which she did as good — or better — than just about anyone before or since.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong