GIBSON CITY — Lurk around the sports world long enough, you witness the way clichés avoid extinction.
The one about games being decided by who wants it more, for example, hints at the power of motivation, a force so mighty, we wish it was visible.
Ryland Holt’s motivation, however, has been in plain sight all along.
Look closely at his necklace. The inscription of “Always with you” and “Mom” brackets a photo of Kara Lynn Holt, who would have been proud to learn her son has been named the Pantagraph Area Male Athlete of the Year.
She was denied that and many other proud moments by a drunk driver, who ended her life at age 29 in 2008. At the time, Kara Lynn, a certified nursing assistant, and her 6-year-old son were living with her parents, Jon and Donna Holt of Gibson City.
They took on the job of raising little Ryland, who became a 6-foot-5 multi-sport marvel.
Holt's Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School football team won back-to-back state championships before he led this year’s basketball team to third in the state, a finish matched by his 800-meter relay team in track.
What motivates anyone to chase that much glory?
“Every time I do something or have another accomplishment, everyone says 'your mom would be so proud,' ” Holt said. “That’s kind of why I do all this, just to make her proud.
“I know she’s up there smiling down on me. That’s kind of my motivation. That’s why I wear my necklace of her and have a tattoo on my arm in memory of her.”
Holt credits his grandparents for putting him on a pressure-free path to find his passions.
“They never pushed me to do a whole bunch of extra stuff,” he said. “They just said, ‘we’ll back you whatever you want to do.’ They were the best support system I could ask for. Anything I wanted to try, they would put me in.”
GCMS coaches Mike Allen (football), Ryan Tompkins (basketball) and Mark Ward (track) are grateful he tried their sports as a youngster along with swimming and baseball.
“He’s been blessed with two amazing grandparents,” Allen said. “The love they show him is beyond what you would expect of anyone.
"They are his biggest fans and supporters. What’s he’s been able to do, they have a lot to do with that because of the way they raised him.”
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Football wise, they raised a unanimous first team all-Heart of Illinois Conference receiver. He helped the Falcons go 14-0 while making 26 catches for 498 yards and eight touchdowns. During the 14-0 season of 2017, he had 17 receptions for 428 yards and 10 TDs.
“Having him as an athlete was nice," Allen said. "Having him as a leader was incredible. He’s just a great kid."
Holt didn’t do football or track his sophomore year so he could focus on basketball. That helped him average 15.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.4 blocks, 2.6 assists and 2.0 steals for this year’s 33-3 team that fashioned a 31-game winning streak.
“He was a really coachable kid,” Tompkins said. “He was just a consummate team player. That’s why it was so fun to see him get better and better each year."
Fans had fun watching Holt dunk with ease. He ended his career with seven consecutive double-doubles.
In track, Holt helped set school records of 1:29.49 in the 800 relay and 3:25.41 in the 1,600 relay. His best splits were in the "low 22s" in the four-by-200 and 51.6 in the four-by-400. In the high jump, he cleared a team-leading 6-1.
"I kind of tried to recruit him because of how good of an athlete he was and what kind of a good leader he was," Ward said. "He came out his junior year. He just did a wonderful job."
Basketball will be the sport he pursues at Division II Minnesota State where he will major in biology as part of a pre-med path.
“It's just the place for me," said Holt, who found the family atmosphere he was looking for in Mankato.
Allen is already seeing Minnesota State jerseys with Holt's number on Gibson City grade schoolers.
“Kids really looked up to him," Allen said. "At the games, kids would come up to him and ask for autographs.”
Holt likens his hometown to a big family.
"It's a family of 4,000," he said. "Everyone there supports each other and they know each other. I think that's something I'm going to miss a lot, just seeing the familiar faces all the time. I'm looking forward to trying to make a new family (in Mankato)."
Family members can be motivating, even when they're gone. Look at Holt's necklace if you don't believe it.