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CHESTERTON — When Kathy Holland says she's seen it all when it comes to Indiana high school gymnastics, it isn't hyperbole.

She literally has.

"Since the IHSAA sanctioned gymnastics (in 1972), I've been to every single state meet, either as a coach, a judge or as meet referee," Holland said.

The streak is ending here. Holland won't be making the long trip to Muncie for state March 10 at Ball State, retiring as an official after 44 years. She hopes to be working this week's Valparaiso Regional but assignments hadn't been made yet. If not, Saturday's Chesterton Sectional may have been the last time gymnasts will have performed in front of Holland's discerning eyes.

"I'm 71," she said. "You just kinda know. When it's time, it's time. Night time, driving in bad weather has become an issue. Plus I've got five grandkids all (age) eight and under, so I can spend more time with them."

A 1965 Plymouth graduate, Holland was a cheerleader in high school at a time when there weren't girls sports. She went to Indiana State, where she remembers a woman from Hungary started a team, so she joined it.

"I've always loved the sport," she said. "It's been a big part of my life forever."

That passion was soon translated into coaching. In 1971, before the implmentation of Title IX, when girls sports fell under the umbrella of Girls Athletics Association, she started a gymnastics at Highland, her first teaching job.

"I went to the A.D. (Larry Yazek) and told him, I had a team, I had a schedule, I had officials," Holland said. "He said, huh, what?"

Three years later, Holland became an official, doing that alongside coaching through 1977 before focusing her attentions solely on judging.

"I've known Kathy a long time, two-thirds of my life," Valpo coach Lorie Cook said. "She was my first supervising teacher at Highland. She's an absolutely incredible supporter of high school gymnastics. She's put in a lot of time and effort to make things better for the sport, for the athletes. She was a voice to the IHSAA. She's a kind face who always put the needs of the gymnasts firsts."

Holland served as rules instructor for 41 years. She has assigned officials for Duneland Athletic Conference meets for about 35 years, judging at the USAG level for 28 years and college for 10 with three national high school meets included along the way. She also spent six years on the National Federation of High Schools rules committee for the sport.

"I've judges the best of them, some top-notch gymnasts," she said. "It's been exciting."

Once Holland settled into Northwest Indiana, the Region is where she has remained. It's long been a hotbed of high school gymnastics in a state where interest isn't widespread with pockets on various points on the map. She's also headed a core of long-time judges who have been the officiating backbone of the sport in the area as well.

"We've been holding steady for years with numbers," said Holland, who retired from teaching at 65. "It's strong, especially in Northwest Indiana. It's always been strong here, compared to the rest of the state."

The Chesterton Sectional was proof positive. Chesterton with 114.975 points. Crown Point didn't advance at 110.1 and Merrillville's fifth-place total of 108.65 would have won three of the four other sectionals with results posted Saturday night. The century mark, once a respected plateau, only gets a team eighth now as seven schools bested 104.

"Great coaches and great school support. It's always been that way," Holland said. "I've met a lot of wonderful people all through the years. The friends I've made, the gymnastics I've watched, it's going to be very, very, very hard. I'm going to miss not only my fellow judges, but the coaches and even the parents."

That feeling is mutual. If she does work the regional, seek her out, shake her hand and tell her thanks for everything.

"She will be missed terribly," Cook said.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at james.peters@nwi.com.

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Sports reporter

Jim was keeping standings on his chalkboard from the time he could print and keeping kickball stats in grade school at St. Bridget's. He covers all manner of prep sports for The Times and is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan.