When Chad Holbrook was a child, his big debut on the baseball field did not go well.
He was 11 years old when he played his first season of Little League Baseball in Greenville, S.C. Before that, he had played basketball and football, but some friends convinced him to try baseball.
“My first year as a Little Leaguer, I was terrible,” Holbrook recalls. “It was a great experience, but it was also the first time I failed on an athletic field. I think that spurred me on to make sure that I would be a better player the next year.”
After that first season, Holbrook practiced baseball a lot. By the end of his second season, he had improved all aspects of his game and was named to the Northwood Little League All-Star Squad. He helped his team win the state championship that year and advance to the national regional tournament in Florida. That second season of Little League helped him fall in love with
It is that dedication and hard work that Holbrook brings to the College of Charleston as the Cougars’ new head baseball coach.
It seems only natural that he would be a coach. His father, Eddie Holbrook, was the very successful head basketball coach at Gardner–Webb University and Furman University.
“Coaching was in my blood,” he says. “I grew up watching my dad and his teams.”
Holbrook’s journey from playing to coaching baseball was seamless. He was awarded a scholarship to play baseball at UNC Chapel Hill in 1990. At the end of his senior year, he was named to the All-ACC second team. After getting his degree in physical education, Holbrook realized that his playing days were over. But he was not ready to give up on the game.
In 1994, Holbrook was hired as an undergraduate assistant baseball coach for the Tar Heels. A year later, he was promoted to assistant coach. He moved up the ranks when he was named the associate head coach in 2007. In his 15 seasons on the Tar Heel coaching staff, North Carolina made 11 NCAA tournament appearances and three College World Series appearances.
His success at UNC caught the eye of University of South Carolina Head Baseball Coach Ray Tanner. And in 2008, Holbrook left North Carolina to become the associate head coach at USC.
It was a smart move.
In Holbrook’s time as associate head coach, South Carolina won back-to-back national championships in 2010 and 2011, and finished as the national runner-up in 2012. In 2011, ESPNU and ESPN the Magazine named Holbrook the 10th best recruiter in all of college athletics, while Baseball America named him Assistant Coach of the Year.
In 2013, he was named head baseball coach at USC and coached the Gamecocks for five seasons. During that time, he took his teams to the NCAA tournament three times. He resigned from South Carolina after compiling a record of 200-106.
Now, he says he’s excited to be the head coach for the Cougars because he believes the College has proven to be a great place for baseball.
“A couple of times in the last decade or so, the College was just a pitch or two away from the College World Series with Coach John Pawlowski’s teams and Coach Monte Lee’s teams,” he says. “There is no reason why we cannot put ourselves back into that national conversation.”
The great thing about baseball is you know what to expect; the distance between home plate and first base is always 90 feet; the home team always bats at the bottom of the inning; three strikes and you’re out.
Life, however, is not as predictable. Holbrook found that out in 2004.
On the afternoon of September 7 of that year, Holbrook and his wife, Jenn, were told that their 2-year-old son, Reece, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Reece was immediately admitted to UNC Children’s Hospital, where they would spend the next seven days. During that time, Reece had a port surgically placed in his chest, a spinal tap and bone marrow aspiration, and began chemotherapy. The family was told that Reece would receive chemotherapy for the next three years and two months.
On November 13, 2007, Reece had his last chemotherapy treatment and was considered in remission. Today, he is a healthy teenager and goes once a year for a routine checkup.
After experiencing the difficulties of caring for a sick child, Chad and Jenn Holbrook decided to become advocates for other families going through the same thing. In 2012, the Holbrooks established the Reece Holbrook Win Anyway Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping kids in their fight against cancer and other terminal illnesses.
“When a kid is diagnosed with cancer, the entire family can feel like they are on an island by themselves,” Holbrook says. “If you can put your arms around them and provide them with both financial and emotional support, you would be surprised how much that helps them get through the process.”
Over the years, the foundation has raised millions of dollars to support impacted families. Most of that money has been raised through annual charity events, auctions and benefit concerts by artists such as Vince Gill, Edwin McCain and the band Old Dominion.
“We want to raise as much money as we can, because research for this disease is underfunded,” he says. “We also want to raise awareness and make people understand there are some parents out there hurting and some kids out there fighting for their lives.”
Holbrook considers his work on the foundation to be just as important as his work on the field.
These days, Holbrook says he is extremely happy with his life and his career. He believes he’s living the dream.
“I come to the office every morning with a smile on my face,” he says. “I am lucky to be coaching in one of my favorite cities, and living in a place where I want to spend the rest of my life. I feel very fortunate.”