WESTPORT – The sensation of feeling like he never left came quickly for Rodney Martin. It didn’t happen the very first time he walked into the doors and down the halls at South Decatur High School, but it did very soon after.
“It didn’t feel like I was gone for a couple years,” Martin said. “It’s been good. Everyone has been really welcoming. That’s been nice.”
Martin spent 21 years teaching health and physical education at South Decatur, his alma mater. He left to pursue an opportunity at St. Mary’s School, which is where he spent the past two years.
After Willard Rice retired as South’s athletic director, Martin was interested in coming back home.
“I am a South Decatur person and have been my entire life,” said Martin, who was a senior on the football team that won the 1990 state championship. “I’ve seen the ups and downs. I’ve seen the greatest things happen here athletically and I’ve seen some of the worst things to happen. Regardless, it’s home for me, so that’s why I was interested (in the AD opening).”
Martin was an offensive and defensive lineman for the Cougars, and he kicked PATs and field goals. He graduated in ’91, then played football and threw shot put, discus and hammer at Anderson University.
Martin’s roommate in college was football teammate Jim Jameson, who is South Decatur’s principal.
“We’re thrilled to have him back at home,” Jameson said of Martin. “He’s going to do an amazing job.”
Martin will teach health classes in addition to his AD duties. He’s also an assistant football coach for Rick Zimmerman, who will continue teaching the advanced PE classes Martin used to teach.
Martin was the head football at South for six seasons, from 2009-2014. He’s also coached track and field at South, and spent the past two years as an assistant football coach at Oldenburg Academy.
He’s coaching the offensive and defensive lines for the Cougars, and mentioned how participation is up. They had 17 players – the majority of which were seniors – dress for sectional last fall, but have around 31-32 who have participated this summer.
Martin has been chipping away at things this summer, trying to learn nuances to the job. The biggest thing has been learning how to use Eventlink, a software program most schools in the area use to schedule games and officials. North Decatur athletic director Scott Johnson spent time with Martin this week helping him get up to speed.
“Since every school around us uses it, it’s going to be easier to be on the same page,” Martin said. “It’s not difficult, just little things here and there. I’m very appreciative of Scott helping me with that.”
Martin has also been reaching out to coaches, most of whom he already knows.
“I’m trying to get myself reinserted back at South, making sure everyone knows I’m here and if they need anything to get with me,” he said.
Track coach Sariina Kalli said she’s glad Martin is back at South. She’d like to see him pull the entire coaching staff together more often, instead of just for sport-specific meetings, or for certain seasons.
“We all need to be on the same page for some things – junior high and high school – no matter what sport we coach,” Kalli said. “Most of us don’t coach for the money – we coach for the kids, and I know Rodney already has in mind what’s best for all our student-athletes.”
Cross country coach Bethany Fromer said the Cougars are fortunate to have Martin back in the building.
“He is passionate about his athletes and coaches,” Fromer said. “With his exercise science background, I know that he already has goals for getting these multi-sport athletes knowledge about the benefits of getting in the weight room all year long, as well as offseason. Mindset is everything.”
“I’m here to help our coaches run the best program they can,” Martin said when asked about his top priority. “Whatever I can do to help with that.”
When people think about or talk about South Decatur, Martin wants “first class” associated with the school and its athletic programs. Obviously, he also wants to win game and championships, too.
“When we leave a place,” Martin said, “I want the administrators at that school to say, ‘Wow, South Decatur is a class act. Their fans were great, their teams played hard, they were respectful.’
“We’ve got coaches here who already run first class.”
Another priority is sharing more information on social media platforms. Rice wasn’t a big social media guy, Martin said, which was fine.
Twitter will be the main platform in which he’ll help keep people informed on achievements and happenings. He also anticipates keeping the school’s Facebook page, which is connected to South’s athletic website, updated more frequently.
“I know there are some things we can do that will promote our school and programs more,” Martin said.
Martin was part of the first class of kindergarteners who started school at South Decatur Elementary when it opened in 1978.
After he graduated from SD and Anderson, he took a part-time job teaching PE at St. Louis School in Batesville. He did that for two years before getting hired at South.
“I’ve been through state championship and multiple winless seasons; I’ve seen the whole gamut,” he said. “Regardless, I take pride in South. I’m proud of this place and I’m proud to call it home.”
Martin also loved St. Mary’s, saying the people there were “amazing.”
Why did he leave South? He wanted to try something different, since he’d never been anywhere else as a full-time teacher. Also, his children were going to St. Mary’s at that time.
“That was not a decision I made lightly,” Martin said. “It took me some time to think about it, if that’s truly what I wanted to do. So we went for it.”
Martin’s oldest son, Rhett, began attending South Decatur since last winter, and is a junior on the football team.
It’s good to be back, Martin said, and he’s excited about having the chance to help the coaches and students.
“Since this is home, I’m more invested I think than somebody that might’ve gotten hired from the outside coming in,” he said. “I want to carry that pride and that investment that I have with this school with me and promote it to all of our students and coaches, and just do what I can to help our school be the best it can be.”