Retired Journalist Martin Completes Life-Long Quest;
Has Now Seen Every Alabama High School Play A Football Game
CHILDERSBURG – Steve Martin was a Gadsden teenager in 1961 when he began a journey that would wind him through every nook and cranny of the state.
He finally reached his destination here Friday night (Oct. 4).
Martin, a longtime newspaper journalist who spent half a century covering sports, was assigned by
the Gadsden Times to cover Cedar Bluff versus Etowah County rival Gaston on Oct. 28, 1961. Cedar Bluff won the game 6-0 and Martin began a quest to see every high school in Alabama play football.
Fifty-two years later, Martin accomplished that amazing feat when Central of Clay County beat Childersburg 33-18.
Alabama’s No. 1 high-school football fan didn’t start out with that intention, however. “I starting stringing for the newspaper,” said Martin, who worked for the Gadsden Times, Tuscaloosa News and Birmingham News in his long career. “I didn’t imagine anything like this at first.”
Some years later, the challenge to see every high school play at least once began tugging at his heart. He made of list of schools he had already seen, then made a list of those he had not seen. He then challenged himself even more by setting some rigid rules for his journey. His bucket list eventually included more than 450 high schools and more than 300 high school stadiums.
“I had to see each game in its entirety,” he said. “If I didn’t get to a game before it started, or if I left before it ended, I couldn’t count it.”
A close friend, Chris Drago of Mobile, joined him in his quest a few years later and since then, the two have traveled an estimated 150,000 miles across the state to places such as Valley Head in DeKalb County near Chattanooga, Newbern in Hale County (Sunshine High School), Coffeeville in Clarke County, Rehobeth in Houston County ... and the list goes on and on. The journey has taken both to every county in the state and to more than 500 games along the way.
“I wish I could have deducted the miles on my income tax,” Martin joked.
Currently The AHSAA has 386 high schools playing football. When the current classification period began in the 2012, the total was 389. Heading into this season, Martin had seen all but two – Ramsay of Birmingham and Central of Clay County. His goal was to see them both in 2012, but health issues since his retirement prevented him from doing so. Those health problems couldn’t curtail his passion, however.
Ramsay began playing football in 1930 but discontinued the sport after the 1976 season. The Rams resurrected the sport in 2012. Martin, who never got the chance to see the Rams before 1976, caught them earlier this year in a Sept. 20 game versus Homewood. Central of Clay County is a new school formed by the merge of Clay County and Lineville. It opened its doors for the first time in 2012.
“I saw both Clay County and Lineville before,” said Martin. “I actually saw them play each other in the Class 2A state championship game at Legion Field in 1996. Central is a new school and my rules I imposed wouldn’t let me count that game as seeing Central.”
Childersburg High School principal Jay Hooks said his school was honored to have Martin finish his quest at John Cox Stadium. “I am amazed he has seen all the schools,” said Hooks. “We were thrilled to have him at our game.”
Central of Clay County football coach Kris Herron had similar sentiments. “I had heard about Mr. Martin and his quest,” said Herron. “It is an incredible feat and we are glad to be the team that finished his challenge.”
Martin’s self-imposed rules also required him to suffer through some games played in bitter cold and other trying weather conditions. He left several umbrellas behind along the way and dodged lightning bolts at times.
He walked the sidelines where he kept statistics and wrote summaries for most of the games. Many were published by some newspaper but in later years, he kept the information for himself. In the past few years, his health made keeping the stats impossible.
His favorite game comes to mind quickly. “It was the five-overtime championship game between Homewood and Benjamin Russell in 2001,” he said. “It was so full of excitement, especially in the overtimes.” Homewood won the game 41-34. The two teams were tied at 10-10 going into the first overtime, Martin recalled.
Now that his journey has been completed, he said he isn’t sure he is ready to quit the quest. The AHSAA has at least three new high schools that will be playing varsity football for the first time in the next few years.
Drago, who lacks just 36 schools in his bucket list, said if he knows his buddy, they will be on the road again next year checking out any new schools they haven’t seen before.
“I am so proud of Steve,” said Drago, who added that his friend’s commitment to this challenge never diminished along the way.
“I don’t know anyone who has done what he has done. It has really been a struggle physically for him in recent years but he refused to give up his goals.