Kent Co. high school football players honor late uncles on the field

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Built on tradition, the Grand Rapids Catholic Central High School football team is celebrating 110 years this season.

The team has seen multiple generations of families play through the years.

“We talk about perseverance, which those guys and their families and their wives epitomize that, in terms of their battle,” said Catholic Central football coach Todd Kolster.

Pat Tepper and Tim Hollern were two friends who battled on the football field in the 90s as Catholic Central Cougars. In more recent years, they took on the fights of their lives in the form of cancer.

“Tim was just one of the most easy-going, free-spirited guys. Every single student loved him because he had a way to connect with each kid,” said Andy Evans, a Forest Hills Eastern teacher, coach and friend of Hollern.

Beyond Hollern’s deep ties to the Catholic Central community, he had another family in the Forest Hills Eastern community where he worked as a teacher, athletic director and assistant principal.

“Everybody loved him. When he started getting sick, he never let people know and you could just tell he was battling,” Evans said. “The kids knew it and they had that ultimate respect for him.”

Hollern battled cancer for years. In more recent years, his teammate and friend, Pat Tepper, took up his own fight against the disease. Their battles both ended during the pandemic, and that left family, friends and their communities without the chance to say a proper goodbye.

Still, their legacies are alive in the Catholic Central community. A generation later, Tepper and Hollern’s nephews are teammates and this year, they’re playing for the men who are loved and missed by so many.

“My Uncle Pat was a very loving man. He was always happy. It’s very powerful to me that I’m playing for him this year,” said Catholic Central sophomore Christopher Tepper, who is Pat Tepper’s nephew. “So I think that’s really what’s going on in my head this year.”

“Uncle Tim was like, he was my cool uncle,” said Tim Hollern’s nephew, Catholic Central senior Nick Hollern.

Nick Hollern has worn no. 9 in the past but this year, he decided to wear his uncle’s number: no. 23.

“He was kind of a father figure to me. I decided to change my number and honor him (the) best I could and have it be the first thing I see every time I go out to practice,” Nick Hollern said. “First thing I see when I go out to a game is (that) as a reminder.”

The football helmets at Forest Hills Eastern are displaying hashtag #TeamHollern this year, as well as #FlyHighRaz in honor of student Molly Rasmussen, who drowned over the summer. 

The two schools will come together in two weeks for a cancer awareness game when Catholic Central plays Forest Hills Eastern on Oct. 16.

“It’s really going to be special to continue to honor their legacies, Pat and Tim’s legacy as we go. It’s important to me and it’s important to everyone in our community,” said coach Todd Kolster.