In nearly 40 years as a track and field coach, Jack Martin has mentored state champions, fielded dominant teams and even turned out a Penn Relays winner. But there is no trophy representing his proudest accomplishment.
"My biggest thrill is getting as many kids out for the team as possible and giving kids the opportunity to compete and improve," he said. "The beauty of track is you can do that."
Martin has done it. That's why Westfield High School's boys track and cross country rosters are teeming with more than 100 athletes. It's also why, as Martin retires after 22 years as the head coach, he is handing off fully-stocked programs to assistant Chris Tafelski.
"Having had Jack as a coach in high school, two weeks in and I was hooked," said Tafelski, who ran at Westfield in the 1990s. "He convinces kids right off the bat that this is a sport that's fun, first and foremost, and he gets kids to buy into the hard work that's necessary. If you convince kids the hard work is worth doing, then you're going to have a successful program. It takes very little time to hook these freshmen with the way Jack operates."
The Blue Devils have experienced plenty of success under Martin, who started coaching on the middle school level in 1974, moved to the high school team in 1979 and took the head coaching reins in 1991. In the past five years alone, they captured three Union County Relays titles, two Union County Championship trophies and are coming off three straight Group IV crowns in cross country.
Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment in Martin's tenure was a victory in the distance medley at the 1995 Penn Relays. Anchored by star miler Matt Elmuccio, the Blue Devils clocked 10:14 and are the last area squad to win a relay at the prestigious international meet.
"Elmuccio was here, busting my chops (about retirement)," Martin said Friday at the NJSIAA Group IV meet. "He asked if I was getting close to shedding some tears. I told him the only time I shed some tears was after the Penn Relays victory."
His final meet will be Thursday's Meet of Champions. Westfield has two gold-medal contenders: the 4×800, which has run 7:55, and pole vaulter Peter Fagan, who cleared 14-6 to place second in Group IV.
Asked what has changed most over the years, Martin said the training for distance runners.
"The things we did 25 years ago that were a little bit ahead of the curve, now that's standard operating procedure," he said. "So you always have to look for something else."
Indeed he has.
"One of the things that helped him last as long as he did is he's always learning about the sport," Tafelski said. "He's never done things just because that's the way he's always done them."