Frank Martin chatted with the children, signed autographs and smiled good-naturedly when a youthful questioner asked him what happened against Gonzaga. He broke down his favorite basketball play – great defense becoming South Carolina dunks, like Chris Silva slamming one home against Duke – and then talked about what was really important.
Algebra. A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared. The fifth-graders in the room still had a couple of years before they’d have to know it, but they will have to know it.
And yes, Martin agreed, algebra probably won’t come into any facet of their grown-up lives. But solving problems will, and that’s why it’s important to embrace it in the form of a math problem now.
“The score of the game is important to me on that day, but that’s only 35 times a year,” said Martin, a 15-year high-school math teacher while he was cutting his teeth as a hoops coach. “It’s a lot more important kids understand the critical opportunities in front of them because of education.”
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Even after a Final Four season and continuing to recruit for next season, Martin is a staple in the Columbia community. He was speaking to Brennan Elementary students during lunch one day about math, and how they should be part of Martin’s Math Club, one of several initiatives he and USC women’s coach Dawn Staley have launched in the Midlands.
It’s a simple concept. Perform in school and get to watch the Gamecocks perform on the court. Programs launched when USC wasn’t winning games began to gather steam as more and more children wanted to attend Colonial Life Arena; after a Final Four and national championship in 2016-17, interest is expected to keep skyrocketing.
Martin’s Math, Staley’s Educate My Sole and their involvement in Read with the Gamecocks and Active Gamecocks have reached over 500,000 students since 2008. The success of the two teams has USC eyeing 1 million students.
“Over 29 million pages have been read,” said marketing whiz Josh Waters, in his eighth year of coordinating USC’s athletic branding. “Active Gamecocks is right at 500,000 hours of physical fitness.
“That’s where coaches really help us, putting their names and brand behind it. Both coaches have been huge.”
Martin and Staley didn’t have to do anything. They get paid to win, and considering the state of the programs they took over, their time was going to be heavily consumed by trying to win.
Yet each never shied away from doing anything they could to get their names into the public’s ears, figuring if more fans showed up, at least their teams would have a home-court advantage. That built into rewarding school children for good grades, good conduct, good approaches to math and reading until they had winners on and off the court.
Four teachers involved with the programs tossed first pitches at USC’s Tuesday baseball game. The NCAA won’t allow high schools to take part in the programs – recruit compliance – so USC is limited to elementary and middle schools, but the impact has been enormous.
“It’s good that the kids have role models that they can look up to,” said Matt Moore, PE teacher at Meadowfield Elementary. “Kids love sports, they love basketball and to see those coaches do so well and have those role models come to the kids is awesome.”
Angela Durham was just named South Carolina Librarian of the Year for her duties at Oak Pointe Elementary. “It has bridged the desire to read, especially with the Read to Succeed law, to help our students become better readers,” she said. “Coach Martin has talked about how he came from another country, and Dawn Staley came from the inner city in Philadelphia. They have inspired children to succeed in school because the children want to be like the coaches.”
The programs have spread throughout the state, forcing USC to designate one game for upper S.C. and one game for lower S.C., but as Waters said, that’s a good problem to have. They’ve begun to reach into North Carolina and Georgia as well and the impact Staley and Martin provide helps kids realize that yes, sports can get you into school, but what are you going to do after the ball stops bouncing?
“She has a relationship with the schools so she combines Innersole with Educate My Sole,” Waters said. “Kids see him in the Final Four and realize, ‘Hey, he’s the guy we get to see if we do these math problems!’ ”
Martin has always labeled himself a teacher over a coach, preparing his players for life as a husband, father and citizen as much as he teaches them how to defend a pick-and-roll. This is a small part of how he gives back to the educators who stood by him.
“The teachers … nobody ever hugs a teacher. Nobody ever shakes a teacher’s hand. It’s the most important profession in our world, at least in our country – to provide free education,” Martin said. “I want the young kids to understand that if I’m able to move forward, so can they.”
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LEARNING THE GAME AND MORE
Frank Martin and Dawn Staley have thrown their support behind several programs that reward schoolchildren.
Martin’s Math Club
A few minutes per day reinforcing how math helped a student arrive at a conclusion teaches problem-solving and working toward a solution.
Educate My Sole
The classroom that has the best combination of academics, attendance, behavior and physical fitness wins a new pair of sneakers for each child and a field day at the end of the school year.
Any student who completes a two-week, 30-minute-per-day exercise regimen is eligible to receive free basketball tickets. All are encouraged to do the program through the academic year in three sessions – fall, winter and spring.
Read with the Gamecocks
Students record the number of pages they read onto a log sheet and the totals for each are accumulated for a chance at free tickets.