When it came to sports, especially football, there was no greater fan than Andrew Martin.
Martin grew up in Warwick Neck and attended St. Rose Elementary School and would later spend his first three years of high school at Veterans, then complete his high school career at Pilgrim in 2017.
Martin was diagnosed with Ataxia-telangiectasia (A-T) at a young age. A-T is a rare genetic disease that affects approximately one in 40,000 children. The disease causes progressive loss of muscle control, immune system problems, extreme fatigue and a high rate of cancer.
Martin passed away from the disease at the age of 19 earlier this month. Although Martin has passed, the impact he made in the community will not be forgotten, and is still celebrated to this day.
Heading into his freshman year of high school at Vets, Martin was determined to contribute to the sports teams, including the football team, in any way he could.
With the help of the coaches and administration, Martin joined the football team and attended nearly every game during his time at Vets. Whether it was handing out water, helping the coaching staff, or simply just motivating his teammates, Martin quickly became one of the most popular kids on the sidelines.
“Seeing him on the sidelines at all of our games, I think it showed a sign of strength in our entire team. It couldn’t have been easy for him but he was always out there with us. I can say with full (confidence) that he was stronger than any kid on that team,” said former Vets and Pilgrim football player Hunter Coleman. “We knew that he would have given anything to be able to have a chance to play. We all knew that we had to go out there and give it our all for him.”
Martin gave his all to the team as well. Throughout his high school tenure, Martin and his parents Tim and Cathy followed the team to every game. No matter the time, weather, or situation, Martin was always present in his jersey … even during times when his illness took its toll.
“He came to every game. There were times that he would miss school and I would text his mom checking in and she would tell me that he wasn’t feeling well and would probably have to miss the game. At 6:30 I would get a text from her saying, ‘he’s up and wants to go, we’ll be there.’ He was as much a part of that team as anyone else,” said Pilgrim Athletic Supervisor Scott Bayha, who first met Martin at Vets prior to the consolidation of the schools.
Martin’s involvement did not stop at football as he also helped the basketball teams. During his freshman season, he was called in during a game in the final quarter which was among the biggest highlights of his sports career. He also led the school pep rallies and attended all team events such as team dinners and movie nights. His commitment to the team would later earn him a standing ovation when he received his varsity letter.
Vets and Pilgrim consolidated following his junior year. Although many of the students from Vets were concerned about the move, Martin looked forward to it for one reason.
“When Vets made the move to Pilgrim a lot of the kids weren’t so sure about it … Andrew was excited because the football team was better,” said Bayha. “We won a game against Mount Pleasant and I asked him if it was really that much better … he said, ‘this is unbelievable.’”
Like at Vets, Martin quickly made his presence felt with the Patriots at Pilgrim, and was once again a mainstay on the sidelines.
“After consolidation when he came to Pilgrim he was always lighting up the sideline. Guys rallied around him and guys looked to him when things got rough during games. It was definitely a great atmosphere to have him down there on the sidelines with us, it’s definitely going to be missed here,” said current Pilgrim head coach Blake Simpson, who was an assistant at the time. “For any high school kid to have to switch schools for just one year, especially the year that is probably the most important athletically and socially, he was always there, supporting us no matter where he was. Guys really looked forward to seeing him there on Friday nights.”
“He was just a joy to have around, he really was. Football was a passion of his so to be involved in any way was super for him,” added former Vets and Pilgrim head coach Rob Pacifico. “The kids enjoyed having him there, they enjoyed having him there just like anyone else. The kids and the coaching staff really took to Andrew. He was one of us.”
Martin began taking courses at the Community College of Rhode Island following his graduation from Pilgrim. As his disease progressed, his love for football remained as strong as ever. Prior to his passing, one of his dreams came true. Martin was an avid Alabama Crimson Tide fan, and he received a call from Alabama head coach Nick Saban to wish him the best.
Martin’s presence will be missed not only on the sidelines, but throughout the entire Warwick community.
“I learned a lot about kids from Andrew. Seeing kids in the hallways fist bumping him, it wasn’t anything he was doing it’s just who he was. He opened a lot of eyes,” said Bayha, who also applauded Tim and Cathy’s commitment to Andrew and the team. “They deserve an award. Whenever he was invited to something they dropped everything they were doing to make sure he was there. They saw more games than most of the parents whose kids played. They are really great people, really involved people.”
Martin inspired those around him during his time at Vets and Pilgrim, and helped keep things in perspective when the going got rough on the field and court.
“Kids would be smashing their helmets, getting beat. I remember asking a kid, ‘How do you think Andrew would feel if he was out there,’ and he told me that he would be just as mad. I said, ‘No, that would be the happiest day of his life.’ The kid went back out and didn’t say another word. Andrew was great for those teams that were losing. I also had a girl that wanted to quit the basketball team because of playing time. I told her, ‘Talk to Andrew, he would do anything to be in your shoes.’ She went on to play the next three years,” said Bayha.
Coleman believes that the Patriots will miss Martin’s company, and will be fighting as hard as ever in his memory.
“He was always smiling. He was always smiling, waving to people, no matter who you were he was bringing happiness to everyone’s day,” said Coleman. “They will definitely feel the loss this season but they will want to fight and win even more for him since he was always fighting for himself.”