The members of Blendon Middle School’s eighth-grade boys basketball team headed into their first scrimmage of the season last Thursday thinking they would be without their coach.
Coach Caleb Martin, who was called to a five-day training with his Ohio Army National Guard infantry unit in Walbridge near Toledo, had prepared his team in advance. He outlined which players would start, the game plan for their scrimmage and who would help them while he was away.
If he could be at the game, he’d make every effort to make it possible, Martin told them.
The eighth-graders sat together in the stands at Worthington McCord Middle School as the seventh-grade team played their scrimmage. They were 30 minutes away from their own match when one of them noticed someone had entered the gym.
Dressed in his military uniform, Martin had been released from his training Thursday with enough time to drive 125 miles to make the game.
“I came back for the boys to make sure they were cared for and that they knew their coach was thinking of them,” he said. “I put in the extra effort to do whatever I had to do for them.”
Martin coached the team during their scrimmage before returning to Walbridge to complete the rest of his training. For the team, it was a special moment that said more than words could express.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that moment ever,” eighth-grader Jordan Wilkins said. “I feel like Coach Martin will be there for us forever.”
Martin, who teaches health and physical education, is in his third year coaching basketball at Blendon. He previously coached football but stepped away from it for the past two years because of training at Fort Benning in Georgia over the summer.
Martin has built strong connections with his players, leading them with dedication and positivity, Blendon Principal Kendall Harris said.
“The kids love him,” he said. “He’s able to build that rapport with the kids. Just being able to come back and serve and do things with the military shows how committed he really is to the team.”
Players said they knew of Martin’s military background but seeing him in uniform during Thursday’s scrimmage made it all the more real — and inspiring.
“We all said, since he came down here for us, we have to win that game,” Wilkins said. “We played our hardest that game.”
Eighth-grader Austin Heminger said the team is blessed to have Martin as a coach.
“Any other person who would be out of town would skip (the scrimmage) and say, ‘Oh I have other priorities over this,’” he said. “It really shows that he makes us a main priority.”