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  • Writer's picturetony

Thanks, Coach

Today marks her birthday, she would have been 63. One of our dear friends from college passed away over the summer.

I met Becky Martin at the start of my senior year at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College ( . As usual, I was playing pickup basketball at the gym when I should have been studying. A friend walked in with a very athletic and good-looking young woman and asked if they could join us. Sure, why not? It took about 60 seconds to realize, "Whoa, this girl can PLAY!" Becky was a brand new student, a local kid who literally walked across the street from her parent's house to go to college. We also turned out to be in the same Intro to Sociology class (the Freshman, and the Senior who put off too many graduation requirements until the last couple of semesters). We weren't more than casual acquaintances, but she joined the same sorority as Susan (my wife-to-be), and so we became friends. Over the years, we attended some of the games she played and coached, sometimes had breakfast with Becky and her parents, and joined her for many pickup volleyball games. She wasn't a daily friend, but a treasured friend.

Becky was a multi-sport star at Western Maryland - the first woman to score 1000 points in basketball, a top-notch hitter and leader in volleyball, and medal winner in track and field. The girl who stayed home to attend college also stayed home to teach and coach, taking over as women's basketball coach a year after graduation. She went on to an amazing career: the winningest coach in Conference history, 18 postseason appearances, and six trips to the NCAA tournament, reaching the Sweet 16 in 2004. She produced 45 all-conference players and three All-Americans. Her legacy is found in the countless young women she coached, influenced, and mentored.

At best I'm only an intramural/recreational level athlete, not worthy to be on the floor with real athletes. But here's my story of the closest I came to being coached by Becky.

In my early 30's, I was still an active basketball and volleyball player. In a pickup game, my knee snapped, audibly and painfully. Colorful language followed. My local doctor thought it might be just a sprain, so I did a couple of weeks of rest. But it was pretty clear that this was not a small thing. Hmm, what to do? I called Coach Becky: "Is there an orthopedist that works with your athletes, or that you can recommend who is used to working with active people?" Becky: "Tell you what, come to the old gym on Sunday, that's when an orthopedist swings by to check out our athletes, I'll sneak you in."

So i showed up, waited my turn with all these young people. The doctor furrows his brow - I suspect he is not fooled into thinking that this 5' 6", scrawny, balding 30+ year old is any form of college athlete. Then he grabs my leg above and below the knee, wiggles it, and says "I suspect a torn ACL, but won't know until I go in there. Come by my office, we'll talk about options". My options became: live with it, and permanently use a brace for sports; clean it out a bit and hope for the best; or go for an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) reconstruction.

What to do? By this point, the whole thing was wearing me down mentally, and I was thinking that maybe this was going to be the end of my (very modest) athletic career. So I called Becky, and told her that I was thinking of just living with the injury and resigning myself to a less active lifestyle.

And Dear Friend Becky suddenly turned into Tough Coach Becky, who gave me a direct and emphatic earful of direction and encouragement. "What?!? You're too young, too active! What are you thinking? You've got too much to do ahead of you!" I forget the rest because I was frankly in shock. She was right, of course, and the surgery put me back on course to the active lifestyle I wanted to lead.

When we spoke over the years, that story would sometimes come up, and Becky was always a bit embarrassed that she was so, uh, animated in her advice. And I would always laugh and thank her. At that moment I needed and appreciated her expert and trusted advice. Like the good Coach she was, she told me what I needed to hear - directly, and tempered with her concern for me as a person and friend.

Becky dedicated herself for almost 4 decades to the demands of college recruiting, coaching, teaching, mentoring. She also cared for her parents until they were gone, and she was looking forward to more travel, more adventure. And then she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her player network sprung into action; friends and family, and the College, mobilized in support. And Becky turned her considerable strength and dedication to a new cause. She said, "I may not win the war, but I plan on winning a lot of battles." And so she did.

There's no explaining, no understanding, no rationalizing why such a wonderful, dedicated, "straight-arrow" friend is gone so soon. But there was a small blessing for us. Susan and I had several chances to sit with her and talk about life, faith, our times together, and whatever else came to mind. Most importantly, we all said the things that we should have said long ago. Susan has always been better at this than I am, but I hope that all of the people who are important in my life have heard that from me, and in the same way that Becky coached her players, and also coached me - directly, and tempered with concern for each other as person and friend.


McDaniel mourns loss of longtime women’s basketball coach Becky Martin


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