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Veteran Holt Wrestling Coach Rocky Shaft Blazes Long Trail of Success

Al Martin

Rocky Shaft, who has guided the Rams to 37 titles, never takes credit – all wins belong to his generations of wrestlers.

HOLT, Mich. – Holt High School’s warm-up, days before their season opener against Okemos, featured a game of handball. The objective was simple: throw a volleyball between a big, rubber tire sitting on its side, win a point, and work to score more points than the other team.

Some of Rocky Shaft’s methods may be unusual, but he’s backed them with success throughout his 39 legendary years as head coach.

He proved his point 10 years ago, when a stern parent walked in the wrestling room, wondering why the wrestlers were playing a game and not mastering technique. Shaft had two words: "they’re smiling." That same year, the Rams won the 2008 state title.

Thirty-seven banners hang from the rafters of the Holt wrestling gym, commemorating league or postseason titles. Shaft has provided quite the trophy display in the practice area. There are just as many trophies waiting to be shelved than already showcased on the windowsill of the wrestling room.

Stan Granger, assistant wrestling coach at Holt, joined the program in 1986 as an athlete. He graduated in 1990 and placed sixth at 145-pound weight class at the state meet. Granger returned to Holt as an assistant coach in 1998.

His son, Kyle Granger, plays lacrosse at Eastern Michigan and wrestled for Holt from 2010-14. Under Shaft and his father, Kyle qualified for the state meet his senior season.

Ryan, youngest of Granger’s sons, is a junior at Holt. He has won conference and qualified for regionals.

Credit Tino Abarca
The Grangers

The Grangers continue a legacy of families to have wrestled for Shaft during his 39-year tenure, but they’re currently the most involved with Stan as a coach and Ryan as a wrestler. Kyle helps the team whenever he returns to visit from Eastern Michigan. It’s not unfamiliar to have the three Grangers in a practice at once.

Each of the three Grangers has a unique perspective on Shaft having seen him at different times throughout the past 32 years. While many wrestlers, championships and stern parents have crossed Shaft’s path, Stan thinks Shaft’s core principles and philosophy remain deeply embedded in his character and wrestling program.

These principles and philosophies are why the Grangers have remained part of the Holt community.

Shaft cares about his wrestlers, known for getting them proper treatment for an injury or visiting the hospital at all hours of the night to visit his wrestlers. He positively motivates athletes. When running up and down the gym, from one side to the other, during conditioning, he’ll make sure no one is taking it easy. Not because he finds joy in making the last 30 or so minutes of practice hell, but he wants his wrestlers to dig deep and find something within themselves to finish practice on a high note. He gets the best out of his wrestlers from start to finish.

Shaft is selfless. He walks around his wrestling gym, points at every trophy, plaque or banner and describes who made that specific team or what made that wrestler so special. Shaft will mention and remember every accolade that any of his former wrestler has accomplished, but he won’t mention when he gets an accolade himself.

Shaft was recently honored by the National Wrestling Coaches Association as one of the top coaches in the country, but even his right-hand man and assistant, Stan, didn’t know about the honor until his wife, Liz, mentioned it in passing. Stan, understandably so, was puzzled by Shaft’s quietness. Shaft waved off and downplayed the honor, saying that’s not why he does this – not for the awards.

Shaft has never cared much for the hardware, but they seem to find him. Last year’s league championship, the Rams trailed the dual meet 22-10 late. A few wins here, a few wins there, and suddenly, Holt wins yet another league title. The Rams swept the final slate of matches to hang another banner. A wrestler who wasn’t a mainstay in the varsity lineup last season qualified for the state meet. Shaft is known to get the absolute most out of his wrestlers, mentally and physically.

It’s easy to see why families continue their legacy through Holt wrestling with Shaft. The storied family traditions won’t stop with the Grangers. As long as multiple generations keep coming through the wrestling gym doors, Shaft’s philosophy will continue to permeate throughout the Holt community.

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