Sherando’s Martin steps down as wrestling coach

Sherando head coach Pepper Martin, left, and assistant Brian Kibler, right, react during a dual match against Liberty on Jan. 10 in a quad meet at Handley in Winchester. Martin decided to step down as head coach on Friday after 25 years at the helm. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STEPHENS CITY – After 25 years at the helm, Pepper Martin announced Friday he is stepping down as Sherando’s head wrestling coach.

Martin said that he will still be teaching physical education at Sherando, where he is the department chair. He said he will also still be the head baseball coach at Sherando and the statistician for the football team. Martin said he felt the time was right to step down as wrestling head coach.

“I want to make it clear that I’m not resigning, retiring or quitting on the wrestlers. I’m simply stepping aside,” Martin said in an interview at Sherando Friday afternoon. “I was just getting a little bit physically and mentally drained by the sport. And I noticed with the Friday and Saturday wrestling tournaments it used to be I’d have Sunday to recover and I’d be fine on Monday. Well, the last couple years I noticed I was heading into Tuesday before I was recovering.”

Martin has been Sherando’s head wrestling coach since the school opened in 1993. He has led the program to a 561-143 career record.

He has led the program to 11 district titles, five regional titles and finished in the top five in the state five times.

Martin said that coaching two sports definitely takes its toll, and he felt he couldn’t give 100 percent to wrestling anymore like he needed to.

“I haven’t lost my passion at all for coaching wrestling,” Martin said. “My passion’s there, but the energy level is not right where it needs to be and that’s what brought me to this point. The passion, the energy are a combination that needs to be there. And I’m getting up there a little bit in years. And if I can’t give 100 percent then 90 percent is not good enough for me.”

In 2015, Martin received a lifetime achievement award from the Virginia chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 25 seasons, Sherando’s wrestling team has never had a losing record.

“Coach Martin has devoted countless hours to helping make a positive difference for students during his 25 years leading our wrestling program,” Sherando Principal John Nelson said in a press release. “Although he is stepping down as our wrestling coach, he’ll continue to positively impact our school community through his work as a teacher as well as his other coaching duties. He understands the important lessons that can be taught through athletics and is a well-respected member of our school community.”

Martin said that the wins and losses aren’t what has mattered to him, but the relationships he’s made are what’s important and what he’ll miss the most.

“If there was any legacy looked upon with the program as far as I’m concerned, it’s not the 561 wins the program has compiled over the years, the district, regional titles, the individual state champions we’ve had,” Martin said. “But it’s more so to me the relationships that I’ve developed with the wrestlers and their parents as well as the number of outstanding assistant coaches I’ve had through the years that have helped contribute to the success of the program.”

Martin said he will also miss the coaches on the other teams that he’s become friends with over the years. He said he will likely still go to all of Sherando’s wrestling tournaments next season to support the wrestlers and coaching staff.

Sherando went 19-9 last season, winning the Cavalier Classic wrestling tournament and the Albemarle Warrior Invitational.

Martin said he feels good about where the program is at right now.

“I’m leaving with the program in good shape,” he said. “We have some very talented wrestlers that are going to be returning to the team next year. And some young ones that are really, really developing. The cupboard is not completely full but it’s a long way from being bare. We have two excellent coaches in Brian Kibler and Jim Straight on our staff that are going to be returning.”

Martin said that he thinks Kibler would be an excellent choice to take his place.

“The position hasn’t been filled yet, but if it’s filled by the person that I’d like to take over the program, in Brian Kibler, we’ll get a young, energetic coach,” Martin said. “I have total confidence in him not only maintaining the excellence of the program, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to help step this program back up to a level that we haven’t had in years past.”

Sherando has had four different individuals win state titles. Les Butcher was the first to do it in 1999 at 125 pounds, followed by Stu McGee (2003, 189 pounds) and Nick Bakos (2010, 171 pounds). John Borst, who is now wrestling at Virginia Tech, won three state titles in a row in three different weight classes. He won at 170 pounds in 2015, at 182 pounds in 2016 and at 195 pounds in 2017.

Martin said besides the individual state champions, the 1999-2000 team stood out in his memory because they were a Group AAA school that year and won the Commonwealth District title against very tough competition. Martin said the 2001-02 team also had a memorable season, by going 32-0 in the regular season.

He said there have been many special moments every year, but the most important aspect to him has always been working with the athletes.

“There’s so many great memories from this sport, but almost all of them focus on the young men that I’ve had the privilege of coaching and being a part of their lives through the years,” Martin said. “Wrestling demands a different breed of athlete, but I’ve been so fortunate to have been able to work with a bunch of fine young men through my career.”