Haleigh Martin signs

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By Nancy Imperiale

A standing-room-only crowd of family, friends, and teammates filled the meeting room at Myra Jean’s in Crawfordville Saturday, March 11 for the scholarship signing ceremony for Wakulla High School senior Haleigh Martin.
The 17-year-old distance runner from Crawfordville received a full scholarship to Truett McConnell University in Georgia.
“Haleigh has won more cross-country races than any other athlete we’ve had at Wakulla High School, boy or girl,” WHS Track Coach Paul Hoover told the crowd, to applause. “She’s also won more sub-20 5Ks than any other student and four times she’s gone to state. That’s a testament to her durability.”
“Coach, you’re getting a real leader,” he told the coach from Truett McConnell. “She’s not a big rah-rah leader, she leads by example.”
Truett McConnell Cross Country Coach Jarret Holland called Haleigh “a very talented runner who will definitely be in our top five.”
Truett McConnell is a private, Christian, liberal arts college in Cleveland, Ga., about an hour north of Atlanta. Operated under the Georgia Baptist Convention, the college tries to foster a Christian worldview through a Biblically centered education.
“We definitely think Haleigh will fit right in,” Coach Holland said. “We are a smaller school and we preach and act like family, but we are serious in competition. Our graduation rate is 98.7 percent from our program, so I take as much pride in that as I do when we win. And today we are here to award a full scholarship to Truett McConnell to Haleigh Martin.”
After applause, Haleigh thanked the packed room full of people for coming, listing by name her coaches, parents, teammates, friends and church family from Lake Bradford Baptist Church.
After watching Haleigh sign several documents the crowd mingled and enjoyed Myra Jean’s pizza and cake.
Among those celebrating included Haleigh’s dad, Mike Martin.
“She put in the miles,” Martin said of his daughter. “I’m very proud. She’s done a lot of work to get to this point. And I think she made a good choice, it’s going to be a good fit for her.”
Haleigh’s mom, Melissa Martin, was “very excited” that Haleigh had chosen Truett McConnell from among several schools which recruited her.
“It’s a phenomenal school that speaks of what we are about as a family,” she said. “We went on several visits and she really liked it.”
Although it’s six hours away, Haleigh’s mom is glad that her friend, Margaret “Marty” Wiedeman also attends Truett McConnell.
“Thank goodness Marty will be there to watch out for her,” she said. “When Haleigh first started running, Marty was assigned to be her mentor. We were sad when Marty left for college, so we’re happy she gets to be on her team again.”
Marty graduated in 2014. She drove down from Georgia on spring break this week and was front and center at Haleigh’s signing ceremony.
“Oh, I’m thrilled!” Marty said. “Haleigh is the one who helped me choose Truett McConnell in the first place.”
“That, to me, is really special,” Haleigh’s mom said to Marty. “We’re so happy that Haleigh’s going to have you.”
“Don’t worry, Haleigh,” Marty said, “Mama Marty is going to take good care of you.”
Haleigh and Marty are a great team on and off the track, Coach Hoover said.
“They’re two of the best we’ve produced, and I don’t just mean runners,” he said. Hoover said he would always remember Haleigh’s smile and her attitude and winning spirit at races.
“You’re a beast,” he told her. “A really nice one, but you are a beast.”
“I remember Haleigh as a skinny little freshman,” Hoover said. “I asked her, ‘Why do you want to run cross-country?’ And she said ‘I don’t know, I have to do something after school.’ ‘’
She also played soccer that year, and showed promise in both sports. Then she attended Running Camp that summer. During a game of “Noodle Wars” at camp, Coach Hoover noticed that rather than becoming competitive, Haleigh “guarded the pile of noodles” and at dodgeball she retreated to the corner.
“I’d never seen an athlete not competitive at other things,” Hoover said. “But then we got her on the track.”
Haleigh not only excelled in distance running, she has won more cross-country races that any other athlete in the history of Wakulla High School
“She’s probably as coachable an athlete as I’ve had,” Hoover said. “She’s always done what we ask. A good team leader. Good attitude. Laid back, so much so you wouldn’t think she has a competitive bone in her body. Then it all comes out at the meet….You couldn’t ask for a better all-around athlete.”
Coach Emily Smith, who is expecting a baby girl in June, attended the ceremony. She coached Haleigh in cross-country.
“I’m so proud of Haleigh,” Coach Smith said. “She has worked so hard. She is a dedicated, hard-working and fearless runner.”
Smith said Haleigh had to battle through a plateau last year, which can cause many runners to give up. But Haleigh focused on the training regimen her coaches advised with determination to best her own times.
“A lot of it is mental, to not feel discouraged,” Coach Smith said. “Haleigh always kept working. She’s so deserving.”