From local ball park player to all-Army champ: Soldier's story of resilience
October 7, 2013
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (Oct. 7, 2013) -- It didn't take long for one 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Soldier to elevate her softball game from playing at the local park to helping the 2013 All-Army Women's Softball team successfully defend their Armed Forces softball championship title.
Spc. Tonya Martin, a military police Soldier with the 92nd Military Police Battalion, and her fellow team members, beat the U.S. Air Force with a score of 6-3 in their final game of the Armed Forces Softball Tournament, at Fort Sill, Okla. Sep. 18.
Going into the championship game, the team was undefeated with a record of 8-0 -- an impressive showing considering that the best players from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps gathered to compete against each other in the five-day, round-robin annual event.
This was the first time the All-Army team won gold back-to-back since the 1996-1997 seasons.
"I'm a natural athlete; I play basketball, volleyball, anything really," said Martin. "But softball is just what I love to do; I could play it year round."
Martin, a three-year Army veteran and native of West Plains, Mo., joined Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 92nd Military Police Battalion, in May.
She said when she first came to the unit, she felt like she needed to prove herself at the workplace before pursuing an extracurricular activity like softball.
But her performance at the local park left one senior enlisted Soldier thoroughly impressed, helping Martin take her game to a bigger stage in less than 40 days.
"I often visit the parks to watch the local softball teams play," said Sgt. 1st Class Rob Bailey, an instructor at the U.S. Army Military Police School and previous coach of three national championship All-Army Women's Softball teams. "A friend of mine came up to me and said that I really needed to see her play, and I'm glad that I did, because she's one hell of a player."
Bailey said that Martin was more than just an athlete, and that she has a Soldier's drive to excel.
"As a coach, there are three things I tell my team that they should strive to represent: yourself, the unit, and the Black and Gold," said Bailey. "With Tonya, it's really apparent that she represents three for three. She is just the ideal Soldier athlete."
After speaking with Martin, Bailey went to the 92nd Military Police Battalion leadership to gain approval for Martin to try out for the team.
"Sergeant First Class Bailey approached me about the talent level that Specialist Martin possessed," said Command Sgt. Maj. James Schultz, senior enlisted advisor of the 92nd Military Police Battalion. "He said that she stood a great chance of making the team, and he speaks from experience."
"I think that it is important to allow Soldiers to embrace an opportunity to showcase their skills, especially when it represents not only the unit, but the Army very well," Schultz said.
With her unit's approval, Martin submitted her application to the All-Army team and was selected for a 24-Soldier squad. She left for camp Aug. 20. Three tournaments and several rounds of cuts later, she was still standing alongside 14 other Soldiers selected to advance. She and her team members practiced for up to eight hours a day, in addition to playing doubleheader games and scrimmages.
"After the first week of camp, the coaches called me and said that they were surprised at the dedication and determination that she had shown on the field," Bailey said. "She not only wanted to perform better, but she wanted to represent the team in the best way possible."
The team earned the U.S. Specialty Sports Association Women's North Atlantic National Championship All-Tournament Team with All-American's Honors, and went on to play in the joint service round-robin tournament for best record wins.
After each tournament, the players were counseled on their performance and told whether or not they would continue through selection.
The day Martin was told she had made the team she also received a message informing her that her grandfather was about to pass away.
"It was the happiest moment for me, and yet it was very upsetting to hear that my time to spend with my grandfather was running out," Martin said.
Martin decided to go home.
"I told her that if she left she would have to be prepared to walk away for good or to come back with her game face on, prepared to win, because I knew she could do it," said Bailey.
And she did.
Two days later, Martin returned to the team as they prepared to defend their championship title.
The day the team won the championship game Martin's grandfather passed away.
"I know that he would have wanted me at that game; he would have wanted me to be right where I was on that day, doing what I love," said Martin.
Although her victory was bittersweet, Martin said she plans to go back to camp next year and play amongst the veterans on the 2014 All-Army Women's Softball team.
She also decided to re-enlist in the Army, where she will continue to serve as an MP for the next three years, when she's not at the local park playing ball.