Saturday, October 16, 2021
Oct. 16, 2021

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Martinez: One last big cross country meet for big brother

High school sports

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

Unlike some sports reporters, you don’t have to coerce me to head out to a high school cross country race.

As a former cross country runner, I like to go out to big meets and watch talented runners attack a course.

That’s why it was a bummer that my schedule didn’t allow me to attend the season-opening Steve Maas Run-A-Ree at Hudson’s Bay this fall.

So I was sure to circle Sept. 24 on my calendar, the date of the Nike Portland XC meet at Blue Lake Park in Fairview, Ore.

It’s a big meet that attracts teams from all over the western United States. And I knew most of the elite runners and teams from Clark County would be there, so it was a great opportunity to check in on them.

But there was another reason to go to Nike Portland XC. It’s my brother’s meet.

Ken Martinez is coaching his 30th season of cross country at Aloha High School in Beaverton, Ore. And as the head coach at Aloha, that also makes him the meet director for Nike Portland XC.

That fact has led me to attend Nike Portland XC many times, particularly when it was held for many years at Portland Meadows racetrack, which was less than four miles from The Columbian office.

But there was another reason that led me to Blue Lake Park on Saturday. This was my brother’s last Nike Portland XC as he is retiring from coaching after this season.

“I can’t do it anymore,” he told me Saturday. “It’s just too much. … Did you inherit that from Mom? The anxiety? The worry?”

Nope. I inherited our father’s “whatever” shoulder shrug to things that would cause others stress. That has served me very well in 30 years of deadline pressure. Thanks Dad.

But as my dad would say about my mom “she worries because she cares.”

That’s something my brother also inherited from our mom. For the past three-plus decades — he coached three seasons at Channel Islands High School in Oxnard, Calif., before coming to the Northwest — that’s what my brother has done — cared about kids.

We often herald coaches for the number of victories or titles they’ve earned, or maybe the number of athletes they’ve coached who went to compete in college.

But when you consider that less than two percent of high school athletes become NCAA Division I athletes, if you’re a coach who isn’t servicing the needs of those other 98 percent, then you are not a good high school coach.

And that’s what my brother has done. He’s spent 30 years building relationships with his athletes, hosting them at team events in his own home. 

He has instilled values and ethics that would not only make them better runners, but make them better students, better people. 

I know that better than anyone. I spent my entire adolescent life following him.

My brother and I were often linked growing up, sharing the same friends, doing the same activities. When people confused us as twins growing up, my brother was quick to point out that he is nearly three years older. Now in our older age, it’s a fact that I’m quick to point out.

I was one of his first runners to be guided by his tutelage. He’s the one who introduced me the sport of cross country four decades ago. He was the captain of my first high school cross country team.

When I was in college, I attempted to run a sub-three hour marathon in Las Vegas, but came up 10 minutes short after hitting the proverbial wall. My brother later said: “You should have told me you going to do that. I would have come down and run the last six miles with you and yelled at you the whole way.”

He’s still yelling at runners, telling them they are stronger than they think they are.

During his tenure, my brother helped build Nike Portland XC into one of the premier high school cross country meets in the region. 

The proceeds from the meet have allowed him to treat his Aloha runners to special trips. One year he took his team to Southern California so they could compete in meet hosted by our alma mater, Simi Valley High School, where he introduced his kids to what real hill running is all about. And then he took them to Disneyland.

My brother has earned the right to live a life more fun and fancy free.

But before he can start jogging onto greener pastures, there’s one last worry to tackle — trying to find a replacement for him at Aloha.

The whole the-head-coach-is-also-the-meet-director thing is scaring off would-be successors. It’s a big job, for sure. But it comes with big benefits.

Still, he’d like to find someone he can trust to whom he can pass the torch.

“Yeah, we’re looking for someone just like, who looks just like me, who really knows something about cross country,” he said to me.

Yeah, nice try, Bro. I’m not following you down that path.