Ohio High School Basketball: Martin finds new home, success at Northwest


Canal Fulton girls basketball coches John Martin and Dave Sladky
Martin coached both girls and boys basketball at Wadsworth from the
mid-1980s through 2006, when, a year before retirement, he unceremoniously resigned as boys coach after what has become all-too-typical parent tumult. This year, he has Canal Fulton Northwest in the regioanl tournament.

John Martin didn't think he'd ever coach again. Not after the way it had
apparently ended for him.

Now, for the second time in his two decades as a head coach, he has a team in the regionals.

Martin coached both girls and boys basketball at Wadsworth from the
mid-1980s through 2006, when, a year before retirement, he unceremoniously resigned as boys coach after what has become all-too-typical parent tumult.

“It lingers all the time,” Martin said of the way his tenure at Wadsworth
ended. “To be honest, I can't go in that gym (at Wadsworth) and that's a

It's part of why, when offered the girls coaching job at Canal Fulton
Northwest, Martin made a point to challenge the school board members who
were about to hire him. He asked them, individually, how they would react
the first time a parent came to them with complaints about the coach.

In this day and age, coaches seem to be on a carousel, often driven from
their jobs by torch-wielding parents unhappy their own children's agenda is
not being met. Martin, who is as low-key a coach as there is, was accused of
a number of things by parents and players, none of which he wanted to become public fodder, and none of which in 20-plus years as a head coach at
Wadsworth anyone had brought up before.

It's the type of thing that causes Dave Sladky to marvel. Sladky is Martin's
assistant at Northwest. For more than a decade, Martin was Sladky's
assistant on Wadsworth's boys staff, before leaving to head the girls
program that has become among the state's best public school programs in any sport. Martin eventually took over for Sladky when Sladky retired in 1993.

Sladky is an old-school coach. He wasn't abusive, but he could be volatile.
He ran a tight ship at Wadsworth. His players loved him and revered him.
Throughout most of his tenure, the same was true of Martin. And now, at
Northwest, the ship seems to be sailing smoothly.

Of course, an 18-2 regular season will do that. Nobody complained, for
instance, when Wadsworth went 20-0 a few years back. The Grizzlies slipped
below .500 during Martin's final year, a trend that has continued the last
two seasons under coach Scott Callaghan (who, ironically, resigned as
Wadsworth's girls coach in 2005 under similar duress).

“We've got a great group of parents right here,” Sladky said of Northwest.
“And again, because we're winning, maybe you don't struggle with some of the things as far as parents getting involved, but these parents have been very good as very as being supportive of the girls and of us, so that hasn't been a problem.

When Sladky left Wadsworth, he went on to coach at Walsh University as well
as at the Naval Academy Prep School. While he's been away from the high
school game for nearly 15 years, he believes he understands why the
environment has changed so much and why it has become a tougher arena for coaches. He coached at Wadsworth for more than 15 years. You seldom see that kind of run these days.

“It's still a team game,” Sladky said. “I think you get into problems when
you cater to individuals. And I see that all the time. The catering to
individuals goes along with the AAU crap and all that other stuff.

“But if you can convince them, you can make kids play as a team. Because
they want to win. If they take that attitude, they'll be successful and you
won't have as many problems. The problems occur when you have individuals who don't play as a team, and then the jealousies go with the parents as much as the kids. It just filters down.”

Northwest has been playing as a team. The Indians won a share of a league
championship for the first time in more than 20 years. They are in the
Barberton Division II Regional for the second year in a row. Last year they
lost by a bucket to eventual state runner-up Shaker Heights Hathaway Brown
in the regional final. The order is a little taller this year. Northwest is
paired with Canfield, ranked sixth in the state in Division II. No. 10
Hathaway Brown is in the other semifinal with Parma Heights Holy Name.

But why should the regional be easy for the Indians? Nothing else has. With
no coach, they had no summer program last season, which might be an
indication of exactly how little summer programs mean when the winter
starts. Before the season started, the Indians lost their point guard to a
torn ACL. They lost a post player in the first game of the season and had a
back-up hurt in a car accident.

“We started with eight sound veteran players and we're down to five,” said
Martin, whose 1995 Wadsworth squad played in a regional, the last Wadsworth boys team to do so. “But we've been blessed with some great kids. It's been a season of adversity for us. We've tried to make everything a positive.”

The Indians are led by senior Alexis Harkins, who averages 18 points a game.

Amber McKinney and Tabatha McKinney play key roles along with sophomore
Dakota Harkins.

With all the trials and tribulations, having a coaching staff with 82 combined years of experience probably isn't the worst thing.

“As a veteran coach, with all the things we've gone through this year, you've seen it before at some point and you know how to adjust to it,” Sladky said. “It's been good that the old-timers are here.”

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