Colonel White’s Victory March: A Compelling Journey Beyond the Pitch in the World of Football (Video)

Everyone found out later in the game. But let’s let Bobby Martin — No. 99 — tell you what happened: “I was in at nose tackle,” the 17-year-old Colonel White senior said. “Their quarterback was trying to run the ball wide. Their center grabbed onto me and tried to bury me, but I broke free and ran down the line and caught the quarterback before he got to the line of scrimmage.” That might sound like a typical defensive play, except for one thing. When Bobby Martin “runs,” he does so by using his arms. He was born with no legs.

Colonel White's Bobby Martin walks behind temmates as they line up on the field prior to a game vs. Dunbar. Photo by Jim Witmer

His body ends just a little below his waist.

But as the Valley View crowd found out — just as the Dunbar faithful did last Friday night at Welcome Stadium — while Martin may be lacking in stature, he stands as tall, if not taller, than any athlete in the Miami Valley.

“Bobby’s proved that when the Lord takes something away from you, He always gives you something extra someplace else,” said his grandmother, Martha Walker.

Colonel White's Bobby Martin warms up with a passing drill on the sidelines before a game with Dunbar. Photo by Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

Valley View coach Jay Niswonger was so impressed, he sent out video e-mails of the Colonel White nose tackle’s play. Even though his team buried Colonel White, Niswonger said Bobby — who had two tackles in his late-game appearance — was the talk of all the Spartans players afterward: “He was an inspiration to all of us. And I’ll tell you, our crowd really embraced him, too.”

Justin Dean, a recent Colonel White grad who now works as a Cougars sidelines assistant, was struck by that, as well: “Their crowd gave Bobby a standing ovation. There were some teary eyes. People could hardly believe what they were seeing. It’s like that wherever we go. We get off the bus and the other team just stands there looking. I guess it’s kind of weird to them. They’re trying to figure out just what Bobby’s all about, just what he can do.”

Bobby’s capabilities — and they are myriad — sometimes get a communal hug and, other times, a traffic ticket from an incredulous cop.

“Don’t try to tell Bobby he’s got no legs — don’t tell him he’s got a handicap — he just will not accept that,” Colonel White assistant coach Kerry Ivy said. “To be truthful, he’s a tough kid to coach because he expects to be playing — every play.”

Bobby is a regular on Colonel White’s punt return team — he gets downfield faster than a lot of the other players — and he sees spot duty, usually near the end of the game, as a backup nose tackle. He hates being relegated to the bench, a point he made clear in the final minutes of Colonel White’s 23-20 victory over Dunbar.

“When he wasn’t in there late, oh was he (ticked) off,” Ivy said. “I told him, ‘Dog, I love ya’, but this is how it is now.’ But even then, you still have to keep an eye on him or he may just sub himself in.”

Being told he can’t do something is hard for Bobby to stomach. He’s spent a lifetime turning the word “no” into “yes.”

“You name it, he does it,” Dean said. “He skates, bowls, dances … even drives a car. He drives it pretty good, but I gotta say the first time I rode with him, I felt like I was at Kings Island on a ride. It was something.”

The way he worked the hand controls?

“Hand controls? There weren’t any hand controls,” Dean said. “He had a metal rod from his porch or something and he used it to press the gas and the brakes.”

Colonel White's Bobby Martin is in the midst of teammates as they chant a spirited response to a coaches' inspirational speech in the locker room before a game with Dunbar. Photo by Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

Needless to say, the traffic cops who have stopped Bobby — for speeding, for no license — haven’t been that impressed.

Bobby’s mom, Gloria Martin, said the Camaro that Bobby was driving is now parked. And that means her son’s primary mode of transportation is that special skateboard he’s rigged up. Balanced on the 12-by-18-inch board he’s bolted to two sets of wheels, Bobby navigates everything from the hallways of Colonel White to the sidewalks of downtown Dayton.

“At school they told him they’d put all his classes on the first floor, but he said, ‘I’m fine. I can get up the stairs like any other kid,’ ” Dean said. “He puts the board under his arm and hops up the stairs faster than most guys go with two legs.

“We went to eat at Roosters awhile back and the lady there looked at Bobby and said, ‘We have a ramp.’ When she said that, he got on his board, did a wheelie while doing a handstand, jumped off and was up the steps before she could say another word.”

Someone should have told her his nickname is Tony Hawk.

And the name of the daredevil boarder fits him a lot better than the tag his dad put on him soon after he was born. At first Bobby was called Boo Hoo because he cried so much. And no wonder. Not only was he without legs and would need an occupational therapist to teach him how to roll over, but he required extensive corrective surgery to repair his underdeveloped lower tract areas. And, he was asthmatic.

“I don’t exactly know how it all happened,” said Gloria, an intake coordinator for Day-Mont Behavioral Health Care. “At first they said I had high blood, but that wasn’t it. They said it ended up the worst-case scenario of a regressive syndrome where your legs grow together.”

In the beginning, Bobby’s dad — Robert Martin Sr. — had a tough time accepting all this, and he and Gloria both have said that played a part in their separation. But in recent years he’s come around in his thinking, and as Gloria said, “he realizes how good Bobby really is.”

Martha Walker said Gloria did a good job fostering Bobby’s independence: “The Lord picked the right person to be his mother. My daughter did what I probably would not have. I was overprotective. With Bobby, I would have been too upset. I’d have been trying to shield him from the whole world and then he wouldn’t have learned to do anything for himself. But my daughter took things as they came and let him try everything.”

As Gloria explained: “I never hindered him from anything he wanted to do, never really told him, ‘No.’ Now, I probably should have disciplined him more, but I didn’t want him to shy away from things. Didn’t want him to have any complexes.”

Bobby quickly learned how to work his way through life on his own. Prosthetic legs were an impossibility — he had no thighs to which to affix them — and he doesn’t like a wheelchair.

“It slows me down,” he said.

Colonel White's Bobby Martin keeps in perfect step with his teammates as they arrive at Welcome Stadium before a game with Dunbar. Photo by Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

The skateboard idea, he said, came about some 11 years ago at a Beavercreek skating rink: “They put skates on my hands, but that didn’t work. Then someone suggested a skateboard.”

With a means to get to where he wanted, Bobby showed he had plenty to do once he got there. At Roth Middle School, he played football and wrestled, using his upper-body strength and those well-muscled arms.

But once he got to high school, he strayed from sports and had brief stops at both Dunbar and Meadowdale. Neither of those worked out. At times he fell in with the wrong crowd — people more interested in the street than school — and the bad influences showed.

He finally found a home at Colonel White, where he is one of the most popular students and has been reunited with Earl White, the Cougars’ head football coach who also was his wrestling coach at Roth.

“He’s so much a part of everything that goes on, we don’t see him as handicapped,” White said. “Everything any other kid does, he does. To us, he’s just Bobby. He’s a normal kid.”

You see that in practice, where he knocks heads with the other players, trash talks with the best of them and doesn’t flinch when the barbs come back his way.

“He’s jokeable,” Dean said. “He laughs when Coach tells everyone to take a knee and the other guys go ‘You, too, Bobby.’ ”

Ivy said there are times though when Bobby is faced with things other players never think about.

“Bobby always practices in shorts, so when he got his game pants, he looked over at Josh Tillman, our fullback, and said, ‘How do you tie these things up?’ Josh looked at him kind of strange and said, ‘The same way you tie up a pair of shoes.’

“And that’s when Bobby said, ‘How the hell would I know that?’ ”

He learned quickly, and now when he takes the field, he’s dressed the same as his teammates except that his gold pants are cut off just a few inches below his belt line, and he wears black leather sports gloves to give his hands extra padding.

In the pregame dressing room, he’s especially vocal among his amped-up teammates. Once the game starts, he works his way back and forth on the sidelines, urging on the offense.

In the stands last Friday, Gloria sat next to her brother, Jesse Walker, and worried: “I’m always afraid someone will smash into Bobby and he’ll get smooshed.”

Against Dunbar, though, it was Bobby doing the smooshing. In the second quarter, he came barrelling downfield on a punt return and flattened the Wolverines’ 163-pound Troy Myers with a hit that was at best — you can’t hit below the waist — borderline legal. Once back at the bench, Bobby bellowed: “I ain’t playin’ with ’em out there. I’m hittin’ em!”

Dayton's Colonel White's Bobby Martin moves off the field after playing on the punt return team vs. Dunbar at Welcome Stadium. Born without legs, Martin makes tackles on two legged players twice his size. Despite being banned from playing on an equipment violation 9no shoes and knee pads) the OHSAA has ruled that he is eligible to take the field again. Photo by Jim Witmer

Credit: Jim Witmer

After the game, the Dunbar players congratulated the Cougars. Many sought out Bobby, and from the stands Gloria watched the heart-warming scene on the Welcome Stadium turf.

“All I’ve ever wanted for Bobby is for him to be the best man he could be,” she said softly. And sports-wise, that might not end with football. “He said he might wrestle again,” Dean said. “And now he’s talking about going out for track.” A grinning Ivy, shook his head: “Probably the long jump.”


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