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January 10, 2016 06:40 PM

Got a Minute?  Toby Smith talks to Juan Martinez about why he stopped coaching

JuanMartinezJuan Martinez, 51, has been a part of Valley High School tennis, it almost seems, forever. He coached the VHS boys for 11 years, the girls for four.  In 2011, his Viking girls won the 5A state title, a first for Valley in either girls or boys tennis. He led the Valley boys to three consecutive runners-up in the state tournament (2006-2008). The Martinez family has embraced the maroon, gold and white since 1979. Juan played tennis for the Valley boys for four years, graduating in 1982. His younger brother Patrick also played for Valley as did another brother Andrew. Juan’s three children—Julius, 27, Erick, 25, and Jazzmynn, 21—all competed in tennis for Valley. Juan’s wife, Lori was a cheerleader at the school. Tennis has held a special place in Juan’s life and he expected that to continue. Then suddenly last year he found out he had cancer.
You must have had some warning signs, right?
ValleyGirlsI was worn out, especially last year. I assumed it was my workload—I’m an electrical designer for Bridgers & Paxton, the engineering firm, and often I work real late. I wasn’t spending enough time with my family. Plus, I was putting in a lot of time with Valley tennis, not just during high school season but at summer camps and lessons and at tournaments. I was stressed out. My wife told me I was going to get sick if I didn’t watch out. In July, I notified Valley that I wouldn’t be returning. Helping me make that decision was the annual physical I had had in February 2015, before the high school tennis season had begun. I learned my platelet level was low.  

What are platelets?
Platelets are part of the blood that helps promote coagulation. Platelets may be used to screen for or diagnose various diseases.  Your platelet level is typically 150 to 400.  That’s what it was for all my life. Then, out of nowhere, I had a level of 97.  In August, I returned to the doctor and my level had dropped again, this time to 77. The next time I went, my level had fallen to 57. That’s when they ordered a bone marrow biopsy.
How did they do that?
On Oct. 23, they stuck a needle in my right hip, which was not comfortable at all. They pulled out some bone marrow and fluid.
And that indicated what?  
That I had hairy cell leukemia.
What in the world is that?
It’s a rare, slow-growing cancer of the blood. Apparently your bone marrow makes too many B cells, a type of white blood cell that fights infection.  These excess B cells are abnormal and look “hairy” under the microscope.
So what’s the prognosis?
I have a leukemia that is not curable.  They can put it into remission, but they can’t really cure it.  
How did you react to all this?
My wife was more in a panic than me. Lori’s mother died of leukemia. The doctor had Lori sit down and he told her what I have was not like what her mom had.  The good part is I’m not bruising anywhere and when I brush my teeth I don’t bleed.  I’m being positive about this.  
What was it like to coach last spring?
When the diagnosis came in, it was like whoa.  That seemed to be a sign. I had to rid myself of the stress.  I didn’t need to have that in my life. Some researchers think cancer may be related to stress.  
Who did you talk to at Valley?  
The first person I called was my old coach at Valley, Col. Edd Duncan. He had been my math teacher and was an amazing coach. We’ve stayed in touch.  When I first started to coach he really helped me. He told me to contact coach Leroy Fulgenzi at Robertson High School in Las Vegas. Robertson and Valley have always been close.  We scrimmage Robertson every year. This time I didn’t call Leroy, I called his son, Juan Carlos Fulgenzi, who is the AD at Robertson. I told him I was going to step away from coaching and I didn’t want to leave Valley in the lurch. Did he know anyone who might be interested in the job? Juan Carlos recommended I contact Mario Fulgenzi, his younger brother. Mario knows the value of doubles to a team. He knows doubles points can win dual matches as well as state championships. Mario won A-AAA doubles twice with his brother, Giorgio Fulgenzi. First thing Mario asked me was this: How is doubles play looked upon at Valley? I said we drill in doubles all the time, boys and girls. That sold him, I’m pretty sure.
So he took the job?
Yes. Mario will coach the boys this spring and Evangeline Trujillo will coach the girls.  
Are you going to miss tennis?
I am. Tennis was a great-stress reliever.  But at the same time, it caused stress.   I used up all my vacation working with my teams and taking them to tournaments and running camps and raising funds.  My family was left out of all these things, which was wrong on my part.   
You’re young. Do you think you’ll ever coach again?
I may try to coach the JV team some day. In the meantime, I will help out Mario as much as I can.
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