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A Salute to Our Local Heroes

by Bill Pucko, Bylinesports.com 6/1/10

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  This may be a familiar story.  Its one that bears repeating.
 
In 1954 Donald Holleder was an All American end on the Army football team.  But in 1955, it found itself without a quarterback and lacking in leadership, so legendary coach Red Blaik asked Holleder to consider switching positions. Holleder agreed to what would be an unthinkable proposition in these days.  He had neither the skill set nor experience to play the position, only his coach's belief in him.
 
The move didn't go particularly well.  Army with Holleder at the controls had virtually no passing attack. The team's play in general and Holleder's in particular came under heavy scrutiny.  Army football in the fifties was a very big deal.
 
Despite documented moments of self doubt, Holleder stuck with it, and Blaik by him.  In November 1955, Holleder led Army to an unlikely 14-6 win over Navy and that week, his smiling face under his Cadet football helmet, graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, an honor bestowed to only two other native Rochesterians, Olympians Dick Buerkle in 1978 and A.J. Kitt in 1992.
 
Holleder was drafted to play for the NFL New York Giants, but had neither the time nor inclanation to play professionally.  A natural leader of men, would become a hero again as Major Donald Holleder.
 
On October 17, 1967, he was killed during an ambush in Vietnam while leading a rescue.  Donald Holleder was 33.
 
In his honor, Aquinas Stadium, where Donald played his high school ball, was renamed Holleder Stadium in 1974.  It was home to the professional Rochester Lancer and Rochester Flash soccer teams.  It seated 20,000 and that many turned out to see Pele play a memorable North American Soccer League game against the Lancers in 1977.
 
The stadium was torn down in 1985.  In its place, an industrial park at the corner of Ridgeway and Route 390 still bears Holleder's name.  The Donald Holleder Award is presented annually by the Rochester Press and Radio Club at its Day of Champions.  News 10 anchor and local treasure Rich Funke is the most current honoree.
 
Holleder is part of a breed who put a sense of duty first; those who when they identify danger, run toward it, not away.  That's what makes them special.  Memorial Day is set aside to remember Holleder and all the many less famous for their athletic prowess, who gave as much of themselves as he did. 
 
We salute you.

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