The walk was part of a “Light the Night” gathering sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as a way to raise awareness and funds for those affected by blood cancers.
It’s also a way, Martin believes, for his athletes to gain perspective, appreciation and compassion for issues and people in the world around them.
In a seven-year association with LLS, Miami athletes have helped raise nearly $100,000 to fight the disease.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect tonight,” said freshman linebacker Adam Trick from Wayne High School. “I’m definitely glad to be a part of this. I think it speaks to what our program believes in.”
He carried a yellow lantern, which designated someone lost to the disease.
“This is for Coach Bowen,” he said of linebackers’ coach Joe Bowen. “His wife’s family has been affected by cancer,”
Softball player Noelle Reid of Philadelphia held a yellow light to honor her late grandfather and teammate Chloe Parks of Indianapolis did the same to remember her late mother, Stephanie, also an athlete, who died six years ago at just 38.
Caleb Siech, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound offensive lineman, was there to support his best friend’s dad back in Iowa who was just diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Martin walked to honor a “childhood buddy” who is battling stomach cancer.
A lot of college teams wouldn’t take part in something like this some 43 hours before playing a key game, as the RedHawks are doing today against Western Michigan at Yager Stadium.
But Miami – under Martin – is not like other football programs.
“People say why would you do this?” Martin said with a dismissive shrug. “My parents taught me: ‘Why wouldn’t you do something like this?’
“We have such awesome lives in sports, such great opportunities playing a game and coaching a game we love. Coming out tonight, you can show some appreciation. You can help people and do a little good.”
Two people Miami football has especially helped are 12-year-olds Liam Kaufman from Cincinnati and Quintin Richardson from Oxford.
When they were younger, both had life and death battles with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and ended being “adopted” by the RedHawks football team through a program called Team Impact that pairs children with critical illnesses and Division I athletic programs.
Liam was diagnosed in 2015 and Quintin, a year later.
Both are in remission now and both took part in Thursday night’s walk.
The emcee of the event was Matt Yoches, Miami’s Director of Football Operations, who has long ties to Martin, going back to their days at Grand Valley State, when he was a player and Martin was a coach who involved his teams there in community good deeds, as well.
Though he didn’t mention it publicly Thursday, Yoches has stronger ties to the night than just that.
Three years ago he lost his mother, Mary, to t-cell lymphoma. He lost a friend, too.
“I’ve seen enough,” he said quietly. “I know.
“And again it goes back to Coach Martin and, ‘Why not?;
“What else could you be doing tonight that is more impactful than this?”
Heather Kaufman remembers the exact moment:
“It was February 9, 2015 at 4:15 in the afternoon. That’s when I got the call.”
She and Jim’s 5-year-old son had been bothered by a low grade fever he couldn’t shake and an ear infection that didn’t respond to antibiotics. There was also abnormal bruising and extremely fatigue.
“Liam’s pediatrician called and said, ‘We have his blood results and it’s not good news. We think he has leukemia,’” Heather said. “She told me, ‘You need to get to the hospital …tonight!’
“And after that I didn’t hear anything. I was unable to function.”
Once they got to Cincinnati Children’s, they began a three-year odyssey of chemo and terrible worry.
“We didn’t even know if Liam would be able to go to kindergarten with his twin sister, Cate,” Heather said. “That’s when he was at the height of his treatment. But he went and he was completely bald.”
She smiled at the memory.
“His sister handled that for him. When kids asked, she told them: ‘He’s on medicine to make him better and it made his hair fall out. Leave him alone with it!’
“And they did.”
“The whole community gave us tremendous support,” said Jim, who is a director at Northern Kentucky University.
Heather is a fund-raiser for Comboni Missionaries, an order of Catholic priests that work in Latin America and Africa. She used to work in the development office at Miami University and got her undergrad degree from the school.
She was especially pleased that the football team at her alma mater so embraced her son.
“Chuck Martin has been a huge supporter of Liam,” Jim said. “He’s made a big difference in our son’s treatment and recovery.”
Heather agreed: “Liam loves the football team. He’s been out on the field for games and in the locker room. The team stays at a hotel the night before a home game and they’ve taken him and his dad along to stay with them and then ride the bus to the game.
“And Liam has developed friendships with some of the players especially Spencer McInnis, a running back (from Michigan) who’s graduated. He’s a buddy of Liam’s.”
Quintin, the son of former Miami punter Jake Richardson, has had similar experiences.
“It lifts them, but it lifts our guys too,” Martin said. “They see these little kids battling serious illnesses – and beating them – and it gives the perspective. Their own problems don’t seem so serious.”
The bond with Liam led to Miami’s initial connection to the Light the Night walks.
At first the RedHawks bussed to Cincinnati for them, but a year ago – with Yoches leading the way – Miami decided to host the event at Yager Stadium.
Thursday night Miami president Gregory and his wife Renate and their dogs took part, as did athletics director David Sayler and athletes from the golf team, women’s basketball and softball.
People signed notes on paper bag luminaries they placed along the edge of the field and they chose the lanterns they’d carry: yellow for people lost, white for survivors, red for people offering support.
Early on, organizers ran out of yellow lanterns.
‘Doing something special’
“Our proudest moment came in Year 3 when we were 0-6,” said Martin, who had inherited a moribund Miami program that was 0-12 the year before he took over. “And when you start 0-6, you don’t even want to be seen in public.
“But Matt Yoches had signed us up to do this Light the Night deal in Cincinnati and so we end going down there 48 hours before we’re supposed to play Kent State. But it turned out wonderful.”
And it changed the season.
The RedHawks beat Kent State and their next five opponents after that to become the first team in Division I football history to start 0-6 and then win six straight.
They made it to the St. Petersburg Bowl and only lost to Mississippi State, 17-16, because a field goal was blocked with five seconds left.
And that year changed the RedHawks’ fortunes. They came into this season 30-12 in conference play since 2016, the best record in the MAC.
Martin believes with good fortune comes responsibility, which is what Thursday night was about for the RedHawks.
Dalton Norris, a junior defensive lineman out of Talawanda, understood that as he carried a yellow lantern to honor his Aunt Sandy who died a few years ago.
“When we were out there walking – seeing all the lanterns remembering people who were lost and honoring survivors – it felt like we were doing something special.
“We were lighting the night.”