Source: Sherman Publications

Never on the sideline: GHS athletic director retires

by David Fleet

March 09, 2011

Ask Al Martus the key to almost four decades as a high school athletic director and he can answer in one word: Fairness.

“I often considered students like my son or daughter,” said Martus, 66, who retired as athletic director from the Goodrich School District earlier this year.

“Whether I consoled or congratulated or yelled at them, I tried to be fair.”

Martus’ retirement comes follows his recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, for which he is currently undergoing treatment. It’s the second battle with cancer for Martus, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at 26-years-old.

“It took me two years, but I beat it then,” said Martus.

A Brown City native and 1963 Brown City High School graduate, Martus attended Olivet College where he received a bachelor of arts degree in social studies in 1968. In 1973 he earned a master’s degree in administration from Eastern Michigan University.

After college he worked at Brandon High School where he taught social studies and physical education from 1968-1974.

From 1974 to 1986 he served as principal and athletic director at Peck High School.

“The (high) school was small and included grades seventh through 12—there were no junior varsity or ninth grade sports, we had only three of four sports at Peck.

He came to Goodrich High School in 1986 as athletic director and assistant principal.

“We had 430 students in the high school when I started at Goodrich,” he said. “Today we’re over 700—our school and programs have grown in many ways.”

The challenge for the athletic director was to balance the coaches, parents and students, he said.

“They all want to win,” he said. “Parents and kids want playing time, but that may not win games. And coaches make mistakes. Still, our society dictates we win—it’s really the American way, we all want to win— we have to strive to be the best. Many students realize they are just average athletes and change their focus, moving on to other interests. Kids just know that.”

“Sports are vital for a school—it’s that rah-rah high school that makes a difference—you need it. There’s no pride in your school without sports, it’s like the arts or band. It’s an integral part of school,” he said.

In 1968, girls high school sports was about non-existent, said Martus.

“There was nothing for girls to do,” said Martus. “People were prejudiced—they started with girls basketball and softball and added volleyball later. Girls’ sports was a huge impact on high school athletics. It took awhile for it to get going however.”

In 2002, a memorial scholarship was established to honor Al’s son, Ryan Martus, a Flint police officer who died in a hunting accident on Nov. 15. In 2004, Martus was recognized by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association for completing 30 years of service as an athletic director. In April 2007 Martus was admitted to Genesys Regional Medical Center after suffering a heart attack. He returned to work later that year.

During his more than two decades at Goodrich, Martus helped lead teams to seven state championships.

“When I started at Goodrich, our teams were not winning—the football team was 2-7 and the girls softball team went 0-20. The key to improving athletics is through academics and consistency in coaching. Consider the Goodrich coaches we have now, Gary Barns in boys basketball, Tom Alward in football, and Coach Bob Foreback in baseball—long-term head coaches. If coaches stay, there’s consistency in the program and it improves. It begins with hiring the right person for the job.”

Martus also said when students start playing in elementary school it makes a big improvement later in high school sports.

“The kids are highly motivated here at Goodrich—they’re high achievers. Consider some of our cross-country runners practicing out at 5 a.m.—in return we have state championships. It’s been a pleasure to work at Goodrich—the support from e-mails and letters has been unbelievable. The outpouring of support by the community at my roast last month at the high school was truly overwhelming.”

About 500 teachers, parents and students recently attended a gathering for Martus at Goodrich High School after he announced his retirement.

Martus reflected on working with students over the years and the impact on their lives.

“It was like we sat down for dinner and were talking at the dinner table—what would I say? What advice would I give? Many times at football games or other community events some past students came up to me and said, ‘Remember when you told me to hang in there? Well, it really made an impact on me.’ You never know when a pat on the back made a difference in a young person’s life. But it did and it’s very rewarding when students come back ten to15 years later."