By Tammy Watts
ARCANUM — The Arcanum community mourned the loss of former Arcanum head football coach Martin Montgomery, who passed away on Feb. 8, 2022, at age 79. Formidable and highly successful on the field, he was a role model to many. Those who played for him were eager to share their memories, still vivid decades later.
“He didn’t just teach us the game of football, he taught us the game of life,” said Scott Morris, who played safety and tight end from 1981 to 1984. During that time, the team lost only four games, and tied once.
Scott went on to describe how Montgomery coached each player as an individual. “He knew how to get the absolute best out of every kid, and besides my father and grandfather, was the most influential male role model in my life.”
According to Scott, one of his winning strategies was to “always go for two,” referring to a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown, rather than kicking one extra point. The Trojans had a 75 to 80 percent success rate with two-point conversion attempts.
“He (Montgomery) was always there to listen, and to give advice, even after I graduated from high school, Scott added. “Just because you were done playing for him, doesn’t mean he was done with you.”
Montgomery started the football program at Arcanum in 1975, and coached there until 1988. During that time, the Trojans won seven league championships, and had four undefeated seasons. He was twice named Southwest Ohio Coach of the Year, and is in the Preble County Hall of Fame, Arcanum Hall of Fame, and the World Association of Benchers and Deadlifters (WABDL) Hall of Fame. In addition to Arcanum, he also coached at Twin Valley North, and served as assistant defensive coordinator in Richmond, Ind.
“He’s a legend,” said former Arcanum football cheerleader Christine Randall.“We rode the bus with the football team, and if they lost, they knew not to utter one word. At the same time, when they won, he never allowed excess celebrating,” she said of Montgomery’s strict discipline, and the creation of what she termed a “winning atmosphere.” Describing him as characteristically tough on the field and with his athletes, he was at the same time very kind, a side she came to know through working as an aide in the attendance office with Montgomery.
Shawn Hein, an Arcanum teacher, who also coached football, credits Montgomery for influencing his career path. “I wasn’t a great student at the time; I didn’t take academics too seriously,” he said. Hein played quarterback, and outside linebacker from 1984 to 1988, and remembered Montgomery as stressing education as well as athletics. “He taught us the definition of teamwork, and dedication to a common goal. He really turned us from boys into men.”
Gene Morris, who for 30 years announced games and was known as the “Voice of the Trojans,” said, “We were blessed that two of our sons got to play for him (Montgomery), and how dedicated they are to him still to this day. Only sorry our youngest son didn’t get to play for him.” One of Gene’s favorite Coach Montgomery quotes was relayed to him by his son, Doug Morris, then a freshman. “He told them to talk to their parents about anything but football, ‘because parents don’t know anything about football.’”
Doug, Gene’s son and Scott’s brother, recalled when Montgomery was invited to make a speech before an end-of-season game against Anna in 2005. The outcome would determine which team would make it into the playoffs. “We had gathered all the boys in the weight room, prior to taking the field. It gave me chills to see him in pregame mode again,” Doug said. “Then, in true Coach Montgomery fashion, he said, ‘I don’t know what to say to you, because if you can’t get up for this game, you belong at Kreitzer’s (the local funeral home).’ It was perfect; the team erupted.”
When heart disease forced Montgomery to retire in 1996, it merely marked the beginning of a new chapter. “Martin was a medical miracle and a very brave, disciplined man. His open heart surgery was 26 years ago, and two of his five bypasses lasted 20 years,” said Karen, his wife of 56 years. She spoke of his focus on weightlifting, spending a lot of time in the gym, and again, mentoring young men. “It was really serendipitous how it all happened,” she recalled, “one of the boys looked up weightlifting records for Martin’s age division, and discovered he was already lifting more than some of the record holders.” Montgomery went on to set world records and win national championships, including the WABDL National Record, with a 490.5-lb. deadlift for the 68-74 year-old, 165-lb. division. He set eight world records in the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), including a 502-lb. deadlift in the 65-69 year, 165-lb. division. Montgomery’s world record deadlift of 505 lbs., when he was in the 60-64 age group, at 165 lbs., still stands. He is ranked Number 2 All-Time in WABDL in Master’s Deadlift.
Montgomery’s world class weightlifting achievements, while battling debilitating heart disease that would have sidelined most, are nothing short of miraculous. However, it was his devotion, and genuine love for bringing out the best in his student athletes, both in sports and in life, that will be remembered most. As another former Arcanum player, David Nealeigh stated,
“He was able to create players by utilizing an individual’s strengths, and minimizing their weaknesses.” Nealeigh attested to Montgomery’s legacy, which continues far beyond the football field, and weight room: ”He created a sense of self worth and pride in every player he coached. As we players get older, the traits that Martin instilled in us have helped define us as husbands, fathers, and grandfathers.”
Those who shared fond memories of Martin Montgomery can take comfort in the fact that future generations will benefit from the values he embodied and taught, and be inspired by his resilience in the face of incredible odds. His is truly a legacy that will endure for all time.
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected].