Making the grade -- and then some

  • Written by Ken Karrson




Making the grade -- and then some

Shepard’s Martinez not too busy to earn spot on state all-academic team

By Bob Roubik


            The term “student-athlete” too often is a misnomer.

            While the student part always gets mentioned first, reality frequently differs. Sports not only becomes an individual’s primary identity, it also supersedes all else.

            That’s fine if it prevents an athlete from engaging in improper behavior, but what about those times when games overshadow grades?

            Nicholas Martinez wouldn’t know about that. While many who know his name might initially think of Martinez as a tennis player at Shepard, that represents only a piece of his high school existence -- and definitely not the largest one.

            Academics are more than an intrusion into Martinez’s daily life. They are a necessary challenge to conquer, something he had done in impressive fashion.

            Martinez was one of 26 student-athletes across Illinois to be chosen for the IHSA All-Academic team. Ranked sixth in a class of 444 students at Shepard, Martinez boasts a 5.16 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale thanks to a number of advanced-placement courses and scored a 33 on his ACT. He has received honors with distinction for all seven of his semesters in high school.

“We’ve never had someone on the all-academic team before,” Astros tennis coach Dmitri Cooper said. “It really is a tremendous honor and it shows his strength of character (and) how involved and dependable he is.”

He’s quite busy too. As if maintaining such a lofty GPA and competing in a varsity sports weren’t enough to keep Martinez occupied, there’s more -- much more.

He’s also a member of the National Honor Society and Shepard’s speech team, participates in mathletes, is a peer mentor, an ambassador for the school’s service club and the student-body president.

“It can be overwhelming, but I think that I am one of those people [who needs to stay busy],” Martinez said. “My whole family is definitely that type of people.

“I grew up on a very rigorous schedule. My oldest brother is a hockey player, so I grew up going to school, getting in the car, driving hours to go to hockey tournaments, eating on the road and getting home super late. It’s no surprise that's the way I turned out.”

Martinez’s involvement with mathletes isn’t too great a surprise, seeing as how he wants to study that as a student at Notre Dame next year and use it as a means by which to enter the business world upon college graduation.

“Math has always been my favorite [subject],” Martinez said. “Ever since I was little my parents would be doing flash cards with me on the road, in the bathtub, everywhere.”

No wonder that Martinez can be found writing scores in Cooper’s book when not involved in a match. But Martinez doesn’t shortchange any of his other activities either.

“If he’s not practicing that day, he’s encouraging others to practice,” speech coach Jeff Vazzana said of Martinez. “He’s getting involved, he’s making sure people are memorizing, he’s making sure that everybody knows the schedule for the next week. He’s very, very dependable.

“He’s the kid that as he’s leaving you say, ‘Can you make sure everyone is here on the bus at 6:15 in the morning?’ And if he needs to he’ll call everybody that morning and get it done.”

Martinez’s main speech event is humorous interpretation.

“It's a very different category within speech,” he said. “Basically, you have a story with multiple characters, a humorous story. You play all those characters and you have different voices, different facial expressions, different ways that you hold yourself to distinguish these characters and people who aren’t familiar with speech tend not to understand right away because it's very, very different.”

            “Speech is similar to how track works -- there's multiple events where your team is competing to points overall,” said Vazzana, who coaches 130 kids in speech. “Nick is in one of the events. How he performs gives a certain amount of points for the whole team.

“Shepard was consistently the best team in the state this season. We didn’t do as well in the IHSA state series, but in terms of the preliminary tournaments throughout the year we consistently won tournaments and Nick was consistently in the top of what we call making it into final rounds. There could be 75 or 100 kids performing in his event and he’d be in the top six.”

Vazzana has seen Martinez in action in the classroom too, having taught him in honors English when Martinez was a freshman and AP language in the latter’s junior year. Vazzana said Martinez’s selection to the National Honor Society, which requires community- and school-oriented service work in addition to good grades, was pretty much a no-brainer.

There’s a committee that decides who has exceptional scholarship and character within the school and they can accept or deny the students,” Vazzana said. “Nick was an easy decision because of his exceptional character.”

Cooper has never had the opportunity to instruct Martinez, at least in a standard setting. There has been teaching done on the courts, however, but that was left entirely up to Cooper.

Martinez was introduced to tennis at age 8 and began taking lessons a couple years after that. His older brother played for Cooper and Martinez followed suit as a four-year varsity member.

“I just really like the game because it allows me to be competitive,” Martinez said. “I don’t get to express too much of that in my acting side of the spectrum. I get my physical energy out I guess.”

Besides playing at No. 3 doubles for the Astros, Martinez provides them with a number of intangibles.

“He gets all the kids uplifted and inspired,” Cooper said. “He’s always there to [help] make sure things run smoothly. He’s one of the players on my team that always steps up and just wants to be in that leader role. He’s just a super kid.

“Nick is one of those kids that I hope when he graduates he contacts us and lets us know how he's doing because when he leaves there's going to be a ‘Nick-shaped’ hole in the wall because he's made such an impression on this school,” Vazzana said. “When he leaves, the school won’t be the same. I want to know how he's doing because he's impacted us just as much as we've impacted him.”