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Nations: Making a new home with help from sports

Jeff Nations

By Jeff Nations

It's been nearly 13 years since my wife and I moved to the Shenandoah Valley from our native Kentucky (well, native for her, mostly native for me).

The memories of those first few weeks in this neck of the woods grow more hazy with each passing season -- I recall an 11-hour drive in early January, with the windows on the U-Haul rolled all the way down thanks to our beloved tomcat Hobo's aversion to driving (no more on that topic). I think there must have been about two feet of snow on the ground -- OK, maybe eight inches -- and it was so very, very, very cold.

Basically, it felt like we'd just moved to Nome, Alaska.

New home, new town, new job -- that was a tough winter for both of us.

Not surprisingly, the job came first for me as I jumped into the fray of covering sports. That wasn't so easy, either, considering it was the middle of the winter season and I could barely have told you the difference between Sherando and Shenandoah -- similar names, those -- and unerringly managed to get lost at every opportunity.

There was a saving grace, though -- the work. Specifically, it was getting out into my new community and meeting some of my new neighbors and establishing those connections which I still have today. During the winter, I spent tons of time in basketball gyms all over this region. It was reassuring, almost without exception, just to get to know the coaches and players in this area. I have fond memories of the late Dave Dutton, then Shenandoah's men's basketball coach and athletic director, sitting down with me after a game to shoot the breeze in the most informal and genial way you can imagine.

Handley boys basketball coach Tommy Dixon, I soon found out, had played his college basketball in Kentucky and always asked me about the Bluegrass state.

It wasn't all basketball, I soon found out -- unlike where I'd come from, wrestling is an actual, honest-to-god sport in Virginia. My first wrestling assignment, ever, came during the postseason (of course) when I hit the road to cover Sherando and James Wood compete in the Group AAA Commonwealth District tournament (this was back in 2000). For someone basically clueless about the sport, I couldn't have asked for two better teachers than former James Wood coach Jaye Copp and Sherando's Pepper Martin.

Copp, sadly for me, retired not too long after I came to Virginia, but Pepper is still going strong at Sherando and still expanding my knowledge of sports every time I have the good fortune to run into him on game day.

Martin, like those other coaches I mentioned before, helped make the transition for me so much easier than it could have been. One conversation was all it took to make me realize -- if all the coaches here are like Pepper Martin, this is the best job I've ever had.

They weren't, and aren't, a fact that not just I recognize. On Tuesday, Martin was honored as a recipient of a 2012 VHSL Special Recognition Regional Award of Merit. Martin, nominated by Sherando athletic director Jason Barbe, represented Region II.

"Few people, in my opinion, have had as much success and for as long, and have done it in such a classy way as he has," Barbe said. "Most of the other athletic directors in our region were immediately going, 'Yeah, this is a better choice than anybody to represent our region.'"

No argument here. Martin has long been a mainstay on the area sports scene, first at James Wood and then moving to Sherando when that school opened in 1993.

Martin is that rare breed who coaches two sports, heading up Sherando's wrestling and baseball programs. Both have enjoyed plenty of success with Martin at the helm. He stays busy during the fall, as well, tag-teaming with Craig Bodenschatz on the sideline to religiously record every yard gained and every tackle made by Sherando's football team throughout the season.

"You're looking at 400 wins in wrestling, over 250 wins in baseball, 20 years as a head coach, 20 years he's been doing the stats [for football]," Barbe said. "He is a part of who we are and the successes we have had."

Martin is the first-ever recipient of the VHSL's regional award of merit, one of only 12 coaches honored this year across the state.

"He's top of the line," Barbe said. "Why's he so successful? He's successful because he treats kids right and does things the right way. Success will take care of itself if you do that."

Congratulations, Pepper, and thanks for helping make the Shenandoah Valley a great place to work.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>

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