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Martin directs Warriors to success

Pepper Martin, Wrestling Coach of the Year
Sherando's Pepper Martin, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2009-10 Wrestling Coach of the Year, led the Warriors to a Northwestern District title. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Brian Eller - beller@nvdaily.com

STEPHENS CITY -- People often wonder just how nervous athletes get before a match.

In wrestling, it can sometimes be hard to tell. Wrestlers are always moving around, never standing still enough to notice whether they're shaking in their shoes.

That look of nervousness can easily be mistaken for concentration. Wrestlers will tell you after the match, however, just how nervous they were, or if they were nervous at all.

But what about the coaches? Are they ever nervous before a big match or game? Sure, they aren't the ones out on the field or on the mat, but the hopes and expectations put on an athlete are usually no different than the ones leading them.

For Pepper Martin, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2009-10 Wrestling Coach of the Year, the answer is no.

"I really never get nervous as a coach," he said. "After all I'm not the one going out there and competing. I'm just going out there to help guide them a little bit."

Martin has been at Sherando High School since its inception in the mid-1990s. During that time he has spent numerous seasons with the school's athletic department, coaching wrestling and baseball. As the wrestling coach this season, Martin, along with the help of assistant coaches Joel Elmquist and Brian Kibler, guided the Warriors to one of their most successful seasons, which included a district championship and two state finalist representatives in seniors Nick Bakos and Baxter Newman.

With so many matches and games under his belt, the seasoned coach has seen his share of big moments and pressure situations. But still, he remains calm, worrying only about what is best for his players.

Flash back to the state wrestling tournament. Both Bakos and Newman had advanced to the finals, where a shot at a state championship awaited. For both wrestlers, it was their last chance to claim a title and send their high school wrestling careers off with a bang. As the participants in the finals came out for warmups, the tension and nervousness were there. Wrestlers paced around anxiously, some looking around at the grand stage they were just minutes away from performing on.

Meanwhile, Martin stayed the same. Dressed in a shirt and tie for the finals, the coach simply acted as though it was just another match, despite some admitted nerves for his wrestlers.

"I have to admit there was a little nervousness with the finals," he said. "Just a tinge, but I think it was the type of nervousness where I was hoping for the best for them because I knew how hard they worked to attain that high of a level, and I guess it was nervousness that they didn't get disappointed."

Even with the hard work put in throughout the season, both Bakos and Newman know they wouldn't have even been in the state tournament if it weren't for Martin and his coaching staff. All three men have been instrumental in the success of Sherando's wrestling program, a luxury Martin knows his wrestlers don't take for granted.

"Our kids know they are very fortunate to have two energetic, knowledgeable, young coaches on this staff," Martin said, "And I have to give a lot of credit to Elmquist and Kibler. I've had many different coaching staffs throughout the years and sometimes I would have coaches that are very great with kids, very good at administrative things and didn't know much wrestling. I had others that knew a lot about wrestling but didn't know how to communicate it with the kids.

"But I have the best of both worlds with these guys."

Both Elmquist and Kibler may help provide the Warriors with a top-notch coaching staff, but it all starts with Martin, who over the years has developed a father-like bond with the wrestlers, particularly the senior class.

"I see him every day," Bakos said. "It's almost like I have two dads. Because I'll come down every day and I'll ask him about stuff, talk to him, see what's going on so it's going to be a lot different without them."

The athletes and accolades for Sherando's wrestling program may come and go each year, but every season one thing remains constant. No matter the match or the wrestler, Martin will be there, watching and teaching as calm as ever.


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