When Jenks High School basketball coach Clay Martin got into officiating to earn some extra money to allow his wife to stay home with their two children, little did he realize that part-time job would lead to a lucrative career working in the most prestigious professional league, the National Football League.
“My break came when I was hired by Conference USA after two years of high school (officiating),” Martin said. “Gerald Austin took a chance on me. He is the supervisor of officials for C-USA and about a 25-year official in the NFL.”
Working in the Arena League, including officiating Tulsa Talons games, also got him exposure with the NFL officiating brass.
“A lot of Arena rules are very similar to the NFL. It gave you a chance for the NFL to kind of teach you their philosophies and rules and obviously evaluate you in a very, very fast game.”
Martin, 42, in his 13th season as Jenks coach, recently wrapped us his third season as an NFL official. The dual positions have allowed him to maintain his role as a two-sport star, something he has excelled at since his playing days at Tulsa Nathan Hale High School, where he was a football receiver and basketball guard. He later went on to play one season of football at the University of Tulsa and four seasons of basketball at Oklahoma Baptist University.
“Basketball was always my favorite sport,” Martin said. “I just loved being in the gym. Football is something I enjoyed doing with my buddies.”
His NFL officiating career keeps him on the road on the weekends in the fall. Martin serves as an umpire and is stationed behind the defensive line. He just completed his first season with referee Carl Cheffers’ crew after working his first two seasons with Ed Hochuli.
“If it’s just a normal game on Sunday, I typically fly out Saturday morning,” Martin said. “We go through some things that the crew does on Saturday with pregame meetings and film and things. We wake up Sunday morning and have a crew devotional, breakfast and we’re off to the stadium by about 9:30. We work the game at 1 and then we’re on a plane home and usually home Sunday night a little before midnight. Then it’s back to work at Jenks on Monday morning.”
Hale class of ’93 graduate Clay Martin reflects on those who impacted his education. Clay was in town for induction into the 2018 Tulsa Public Schools Hall of Fame. He is a former NFL referee and the current Jenks High School basket ball coach. #thankyoutuesday pic.twitter.com/Evv7YhXEl9
— Tulsa Public Schools (@TulsaSchools) February 6, 2018
While enjoying watching the recent Super Bowl LII on television, Martin said he would love to be able to work the game as an official.
“When you’re fortunate enough to get in the NFL, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, ‘Maybe one day I’ll have that opportunity.’ There are so many good officials in the NFL, you may never. As a goal, that would be wonderful. More importantly to me is that I have a career, not just a year or two or three, but to have a long and successful career and a sustainable career.”
That career already has allowed his wife, Shannon, a registered nurse, to stay home with their two children, McKenzie and Chase.
To help facilitate his NFL schedule, Martin gave up his position as Jenks basketball coach for two seasons and resigned as assistant principal. He now serves as Assistant Athletics Director for Jenks Community Education, overseeing the club sports of swimming, lacrosse, gymnastics, volleyball and youth basketball.
In his first 11 seasons as Jenks basketball coach, Martin led the Trojans to seven Class 6A state tournament appearances and a runner-up finish in 2009. This season’s team has struggled with a 5-13 overall record and 1-10 conference mark.
“I’m so thankful to be back,” Martin said. “When you’re young and inexperienced, the Frontier Valley Conference isn’t a good place to be. They are such good players and coaches, you get exposed. We’ve been very competitive, just haven’t won as many as we liked.”
While more and more athletes are concentrating on one sport, Martin said his two-sport career has been rewarding for him. His son Chase also is playing two sports, football and basketball, while daughter McKenzie runs on the cross country and track teams.
“I loved playing two sports,” Martin said. “I was always thankful that I was at a school that had coaches support that. I think nowadays with AAU basketball, these kids could play basketball year-round or they could do football with the weight room year-round. To me, I think it’s our job as coaches to encourage the student to follow his dreams.”