Playing ball at the firehouse

As Labor Day approaches each year, the Austin community is reminded of the tragic weekend in 1979 when an automobile accident claimed the lives of town icon Glenn Holland and his girlfriend, Diane Spencer.

Both were young and beautiful, so full of life. That horrible day 36 years ago seems like a short time ago.

This short story is about some of my favorite memories of playing basketball at the firehouse and involves Glenn over a four-year period from 1976-79. Glenn owned the barbershop across the street from the outdoor basketball courts and always had his eyes on what was going on over there.

As players started gathering in the evenings, Glenn would get anxious and worry that more customers would show up before his 5 o’clock closing time and delay him from getting in a game. I saw him several times put a sign on the barbershop door around 4 o’clock that read, “Come on in and have a seat. Back in a few minutes. Playing ball at the firehouse.”

Story continues below gallery

There were times when Glenn was playing that a car would pull up at the shop, and he would stop the game and yell across the street, “Go on in. I’ll be over just as soon as this game is over.” The crazy thing about it was the customers would wave to him like everything was fine and actually go in and wait on him. I don’t remember one of them ever leaving or getting upset.

Ron McNeely used to shake his head and say, “Only Glenn can get by with that.”

Someone was always playing basketball at the firehouse, and if Glenn saw a guy shooting by himself and if there weren’t any customers in the shop, he’d head across the street and challenge the guy to a game of one-on-one.

In the summer of 1976, going into my senior year of high school, I’d go to the firehouse and work on my shooting in the middle of the day. The first chance he got, Glenn would come over and want to play me in some one-on-one. He was a great encourager of others, always positive and loved to compete — in everything.

Sometimes, when there was someone else cutting hair with him in the shop, Glenn would tell his partner as he left for the firehouse courts, “We’re not too busy. If you need help, just holler at me, and I’ll come back.”

Glenn was a leader, which was evident when tempers flared during a game. He loved a fair fight, and there were lots of fights at the firehouse. If two guys got in a fight, Glenn would intervene by momentarily stopping the fight like a referee. He’d tell everyone else to back up and give the guys some room, and then direct the two fighters to resume fighting.

One time, I was in one of those fights. Glenn immediately jumped in and made sure we had plenty of room. While he was doing that, the other guy must have thought he had plenty of room because he reached around Glenn and hit me pretty hard, knocking me backward. Later, I walked over to the barbershop, where Glenn gave me a cold towel. As I sat there holding the towel to my face, Glenn sheepishly grinned and said, “I thought you did pretty good.”

Glenn’s movie star good looks attracted a lot of attention, something he welcomed, of course. I saw a woman approach him one time and ask him if he was Burt Reynolds. Others said he looked like Tony Orlando.

One time, he was cutting a guy’s hair, and the guy told him, “My wife thinks you look like John Wilkes Booth.” Booth, of course, was a famous actor during the 1860s and in 1865 assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

Glenn said he’d never heard that one before, so when the guy leaves, he comes back later with a Civil War history book just to show us. He started showing everyone in the shop the picture of Booth. Before too long, one of the customers read a line from the book that recognized Booth as the handsomest guy in America during the Civil War era.

Glenn, without missing a beat, stopped cutting a customer’s hair, looked around the room and said, “People are always telling me I look just like John Wilkes Booth.” Needless to say, the room cracked up.

Glenn was a great guy always willing to help anyone. He was involved with so many things. He was the first person to get me involved in lifting weights at a serious level. He was a boxer, a singer, a model, a belt earner in karate, a member of the school board and proudly served in the U.S. Army Reserve. And most of all, he was a friend to everyone.

Glenn loved the New York Yankees, and his favorite player was Thurman Munson. When Munson was killed in a plane crash Aug. 2, 1979, Glenn was terribly upset. He bought several copies of the newspaper the next day. I always thought it was odd that one month later, Glenn lost his life in an accident, as well.

Glenn graduated from Austin High School in 1968, and in 12 years of school, he never missed one day of school — not one. Now, with that said, I can’t say he never missed a haircut.

Mike Barrett is a local resident with an interest in history. Send comments to