Leah Hollis was part of two state championship girls volleyball teams as an underclassman at Richland High School. But the Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame inductee said she learned just as much about sports and life when the top-ranked Rams were upset in the playoffs in her last season.
“The final game we lost our senior year was our defining moment,” said Hollis, who will join the Class of 2014 during Saturday’s induction banquet at the Pasquerilla Conference Center. “We were nationally ranked and supposed to go the whole way. We lost in the quarterfinals to Maplewood. Watching our coach, Linda Renzi, pull us together despite this loss made a lasting impression. It taught me you cannot take anything for granted, even if you’re ranked No. 1. It prepared me in academics, in business. You always do your best. You can never take it for granted.”
Hollis’ focus and determination enabled her to earn a NCAA Division I scholarship to Rutgers University, where she started all 106 games as a freshman and lettered two years before making another life-changing decision.
“It was faster,” she said of the college game. “I was honored to win a starting position my freshman year. I did call back to coach Renzi quite often to ask what I needed to do. What was interesting about my experience at Richland is that coach Renzi always emphasized the academics. At the end of my sophomore year at Rutgers, I rescinded my scholarship so I could take a double major and go to graduate school.”
Hollis had 37 solo blocks, fifth-best all-time on Rutgers’ career list even though she played two seasons. Collegian Magazine named her a scholar athlete, and Black Collegian Magazine featured Hollis.
Even though she stepped away from the volleyball court to pursue her academic goals, Hollis never was too far from athletics.
The University of Pittsburgh named Hollis as an academic advisor in 1992, and she served as a liaison to the Panthers’ athletic department.
“I was thrilled to work with the University of Pittsburgh’s Ron G. Brown,” Hollis said. “He was the president of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Student-Athletes. My career working with student-athletes started at Pitt.”
Hollis became the assistant director of student-athlete support services at Northeastern University in 1994. She was named an NCAA Peer Reviewer in 1997-98.
She served on the executive board of the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletes and led a team that rewrote the organization’s national handbook.
A 2001 presidential appointment to the Director of Academic Support Services for Student-Athletes at Rutgers followed for Hollis, who resides in East Fallowfield Township, Chester County.
“When it came time to make a decision between athletics and academics I took the academic route,” Hollis said. “I really parlayed that into helping student-athletes at Rutgers and to rebuild athletic support for student-athletes.”
Hollis founded and is president of the Patricia Berkly LLC Group and dedicates her career to preventing workplace discrimination.
She has written three books: Bully in the Ivory Tower: How Aggression and Incivility Erode American Higher Education (2012); Unequal Opportunity: Fired without cause? Filing with the EEOC (2013); and Bully Beyond the Tower: A Collection of Peer Reviewed Essays on Workplace Bullying (2014).
On Saturday, Hollis will reunite with her former coach, Renzi, and Rams teammates. The hall of fame will honor Richland’s back-to-back PIAA Class AA volleyball championships won in the spring and fall of 1984.
“This is a team effort,” she said of her induction. “I’m very excited to come on home. I’m very thrilled. My only wish would be if my father would have lived long enough to see this induction.”
Her father, the late Dr. Levi Hollis, was a superintendent at Greater Johnstown High School. Her mother, Clea, was president of the NAACP in central Pennsylvania, and both of her parents were civil-rights advocates.
“It is such an honor because I know a lot of great sports figures come out of western Pennsylvania,” Hollis said. “I recognized at the time I was playing that Title IX had really just started to kick in. Also, a lot of little girls were just getting into sports at the time. Your hometown recognizes your accomplishments. To be inducted into the hall of fame as a woman, I’m truly honored.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.