HOWE — It’s not exactly a man-bites-dog story when a high school has coaching vacancies at the end of the year. The schools’ choice or the coaches.
It is a bit unusual when a school changes head coaches in a sport four times in as many years, yet continues to enjoy success in that sport.
The Howe softball program fits that scenario as the Lady Bulldogs are playing for their fourth coach since the 2014 softball season and for the third consecutive year they have reached the third round of the playoffs.
Jeff Martin, who has spent most of his coaching career in what local folks would call the Panhandle area of the state, came to Howe at the start of the current school year.
Martin, who, like many small-school mentors, began the year coaching cross-country then became an assistant to Derek Lands with the Lady Bulldog basketball program.
Now Martin guides the softball team as it prepares for regional play.
After 21 years in the coaching business, Martin brings some impressive credentials to the Howe program.
His 2001 Archer City softball team won the Class 2A state title with a 2-1 win over Weimar.
Martin also coached girls basketball at Archer City and in 2004 the Lady Wildcats won the Class 1A state championship.
Their 59-47 win over Fayetteville at the Erwin Center in Austin completed a 30-5 season.
Martin, a Purcell, Oklahoma native, graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State University in 1996 and began his coaching career at Henrietta.
“It was a typical small school job, coaching multiple sports, but that’s how I got my start,” Martin said.
After a couple of years at Henrietta, Martin returned to the Sooner State to coach at Colgate, again coaching, in his words, “everything.”
“Neil Burchfield was a big influence on my coaching style, he preached fundamentals and that’s carried over in my coaching philosophy,” Martin said.
In 1999 he began a five-year tenure at Archer City, grooming several young ladies for collegiate success.
“Courtney Veal and Kayla Jones were two of my best players there and both went on to play in college,” Martin said. “I coached two players at City View, Sierra Clampitt who pitched at Arkansas and Lacy Taylor, who is now an assistant coach at West Texas A&M, were the best I’ve ever coached.”
Many times coaches make job changes due to family circumstances and that has been the case twice in Martin’s career.
In 2005, after the birth of the family’s first child, he took a job at Wichita Falls Rider, coaching just one sport and giving him more time to help out at home.
Martin’s wife Susan was the sports director for television station KFDX in Wichita Falls, working mostly nights.
Martin spent six years there before going to City View, another Wichita Falls school, in 2011.
“I was an assistant in girls basketball and softball there, but the next year I got the opportunity to go to work with John Guice at Henrietta Midway,” Martin said.
Guice is a member of the Texas High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame and has won over 1,000 games in his career.
Martin coached the girls’ team at Midway and assisted Guice with the boys’ team.
At the close of the 2016 season, Susan Martin took a job in pharmaceutical sales that required extensive travel, leading Martin to apply for, and take the Howe job.
His coaching style has been well received by the Lady Bulldog players, who had grown accustomed to change.
“We work more on fundamentals now than at any time in my career,” senior Kayla Anderson said.
Anderson, who will play for Harding University in Arkansas, also likes his approach with the players.
“He’s very respectful to us, treats us all the same and we all appreciate that,” Anderson said.
Senior catcher Dani Ross echoed Anderson’s view of the new coach. “He is a very quiet leader who has no favorites on this team,” Ross said. “He gets our attention when we need it.”
Senior Madee Mullins, one of Howe’s first subs off the bench, talks about Martin’s influence on her play.
“He makes us focus on what’s in front of us, gets us more focused on the game,” Mullins said.
Martin feels he is much less a disciplinarian now than back in his early years.
“Working with most of the girls during the basketball season, helped the transition to a new coaching style,” Martin said. “I just try to put them into a position to succeed and you can do that without being a strict disciplinarian.”
Howe’s only non-district action this season came in the Van Alstyne tournament where the Lady Bulldogs’ only loss came in a 5-2 decision against Bells.
Two losses to Lone Oak and a loss at Leonard were the only blemishes on the District 10-3A season, where Howe finished second with a 9-3 record.
Howe won a single game bi-district series with S&S before beating Sunnyvale in back-to-back games to win its third consecutive area championship.
The six seniors on this team want more.
“I think we are playing better now than our sophomore season,” pitcher Madisyn Hargrove said.
That year the Lady Bulldogs reached the regional semifinals where they lost a 4-3 game to Whitewright, which went on to the state semifinals.
Seniors Kamryn Fulenchek and Emily Sanders, both bottom of the lineup hitters, have totally bought into the Martin approach.
“He involves the whole team in his practices, everyone knows what’s going on and we like that,” Fulenchek said.
Sanders, who shares the catching duties with Ross, likes his approach to fundamentals.
“You’re not going very far in the playoffs if you don’t do the basics, catch and throw,” Sanders said. “He likes to say we need to jump on people early and we usually do that.”
The Lady Bulldogs go into the regional quarterfinals, under their fourth coach in their high school careers, but all are comfortable with that change.