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Politically Incorrect

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Mike Martin Jr. and Thomas McMahon graduate next week, and leave a hole in my life

I have never thought of myself as being particularly maternal, but in spite of that fact God blessed me with three beautiful children. Those three children, in turn, have blessed me with what I call my ‘extra kids.’

Every parent out there likely already knows what I mean by that phrase, but for those who don’t - when you’re raising kids, you never end up just raising your own. There’s always some extra kids who, as the years go by, end up being a part of your family as well.

Two of my extra kids - Mike Martin and Thomas McMahon - will be graduating from Clark Fork High School a week after this paper goes to press and shortly after that, they will be heading off to their future. My nest is getting emptier by the minute.

Mike

On a dreary February day 18 years ago (the fourth of February, to be exact), Michael Lee Martin Jr. was welcomed into this world. The welcoming took place at Spokane’s Sacred Heart Medical Center, after a “terrifying, yet such a good time” helicopter ride on the HeartFlight for his mom, Francie, because Mike decided to arrive ahead of schedule. It was probably the last time he did anything early, because Mike has the reputation of being a world-class procrastinator. “It drives me nuts,” Francie said, “but somehow he always pulls it through.”

As a premature baby the doctors warned his parents that Mike was likely to be developmentally disabled, at least until he was 8 or 9 years old. Instead, he entered kindergarten as the only student in his class who could already read; by the first grade he was being given different, and more difficult, spelling words than his classmates. When Mike walks across the stage to receive his diploma, he’ll do so with a 3.68 GPA.

He’s a smart boy, but even people who don’t know Mike personally know that he’s an outstanding athlete.

“When doctors tell you your kid might be slow, I think you focus more on teaching them,” Francie explained. “And what Mike (Big Mike, Mike’s dad) knew was sports. Little Mike was totally brainwashed as an infant.” In fact, Little Mike’s first string of words would be to list the starting lineup of the Chicago Bulls.

By kindergarten he was playing soccer (with Thomas’ mom, Lynn Easterbrook, as his coach) and he stuck with that game until he was old enough for flag football. His dad coached him in Little League baseball, and he played volleyball and basketball in City Rec. His first of many Daily Bee headlines was for baseball, and read “Martin Keeps Sandpoint Winning.”

Those headlines changed to keeping Clark Fork winning once he was old enough to play ball in school, and Mike has been a three-sport standout - as Quarterback for the Wampus Cat football team, as point guard for Clark Fork’s basketball team, and as a men’s doubles tennis champion (with partner Thomas). The pair, by the way, took second place in the state 3A tournament this year. I was proud of them but don’t mention it to them personally, because they’re disappointed it wasn’t first.

A few more Mike Sports Highlights? He threw six touchdown passes during the fourth quarter in Clark Fork’s (losing) bid to go to state for football this year, and in a single basketball game he made 25 points without missing a single shot. And yes, he has achieved the coveted double-triple category. As Daily Bee sportswriter Eric Plummer once said, Mike does everything in sports except sell popcorn.

Of course, he sells popcorn when he’s needed to, as well. “I really appreciate Mike at the school,” said Principal Phil Kemink. “He has always stepped up when I need him and has played a very important leadership role.”

What most people don’t know about Mike’s athletic ability, however, is that he also plays a mean game of ‘couch football.’ I know this because Mike became my extra kid when he and my son Dustin, despite a three-year age difference, became best friends. Dustin was in fourth grade, which would have put Mikey in first. In one of their favorite games (if you don’t count storing body gas in jars to be later shared with others) they would run from my bedroom into the living room and fling themselves into the air to catch a flying pass - with the couch placed in the perfect spot to catch them as they fell. They also played kitchen basketball (the hoop was hooked over the pantry door and most of the time they played with a Nerf ball), more video games than a person could possibly count, and yes, I do own a video of Mike doing Karaoke. Before you ask, let me assure you that I can be bought.

All this may make Mike sound like he can do anything, but let me tell you right now, he’s a terrible driver. I am only partly to blame for this. I took him, like I took my own kids, down to the school parking lot to do brodies throughout the winters (from the time they were about 14, but it’s not public property, so I think that’s legal). And sometimes when I would pick him up from work at Dock of the Bay, I would let him drive home (so he could get all his required driving hours in on his permit). Obviously it wasn’t enough, because he scares the heck out of me when he’s behind the wheel. And Anna would like him to stay away from her car.

My son Dustin, who doesn’t want to be quoted saying anything ‘mushy,’ admits that Mike is more than just his best friend - they are as close as two brothers, and likely always will be. I hope that’s true, because I look forward to Mikey (I only started trying to call him Mike when he turned 18) being a part of my life for, well, the rest of it.

Thomas

Just a day over two weeks prior to Mike’s birth, Thomas Joseph McMahon took his first breath in Rutledge, Virginia. In contrast, Thomas was an easy birth despite being the first child of a 30-year old mother, with the nurses in the hospital saying, “My, you’ve waited a long time, haven’t you?” But Lynn Easterbrook, an Australian native who came to the States to work as a nanny, and her husband, Dan McMahon, a builder, had waited just the right amount of time to give birth to what would become an amazing young man.

And a rather bald one, too. No, he wasn’t born bald, but his hair was thin and fair and not very noticeable, something which changed quickly as one of Thomas’ most noticeable traits today is a thick, full head of very curly hair.

I don’t remember what year it was that Thomas suddenly shot up to his current 6’2”, seemingly overnight, but I remember the basketball game he played in when I first noticed. “Look at that really tall kid with all the hair,” I said. “Doesn’t he look just like Thomas McMahon?” Steve Carlson looked over at me in something like amused disgust and said, “Trish, that is Thomas.”

“He was my first,” Lynn said, “and he was a handful. I probably had him as spoiled as he can be.” So spoiled, in fact, that she says her family “finally had to intervene and tell me I needed to apply some discipline.” That was not long after Thomas kicked his Nana in the shin, an act he lists in his senior memories. “So we tightened up the ropes a bit.”

Today, it’s hard to believe they would have needed to, as Thomas is known as one of the nicest young men in the area. “You know, I’m embarrassed, because I feel like I don’t know Thomas as well as I should,” confessed CFHS Principal Phil Kemink. “That’s because I’ve never had to have him in here in my office!”

Not that Thomas hasn’t made his mark on the school. “He’s another one of our leaders - I’m going to hate to lose these kids,” Kemink said. “I really appreciate his drive and kids look up to him for that.”

When Thomas was just over a year old, Lynn and Dan moved to Hope to live in a 500 sq. ft. cabin. “We thought we could come here and live in this little dream cabin, but that’s really small with kids,” Lynn laughed. Soon, her builder husband was working on a new house for their growing family.

Growing up, Thomas “was just normal to us,” said Lynn, but he quickly gained a reputation as a kind, considerate and smart young man who staff at the school predicted would be going places. At the age of ten, he started playing tennis in the Sandpoint City Rec tennis program, a sport that remains his passion to this day. Lynn was a tennis player herself, “and there was a time I could beat him,” she said, “but not any longer.” Disappointed at not taking the state championship title this year in men’s doubles with his partner, Mike, Thomas is hoping his second place trophy will help him earn a right to play in college.

Another passion for him was fishing, and from a young age he would go out with his dad to the pond past the Kiebert’s place in Hope. He’s gone spearfishing on vacations, a special memory, and even made a good attempt to fish while sailing.

“The kids didn’t like sailing as much as we did- they would get bored,” Lynn explained. “So they would try to fish from the boat.”

Thomas also played Little League baseball, and earned the nickname “The Closer” from one of the area’s finest sports critics, Barney Ruen. “Thomas could come into a game and throw strike after strike,” Dan said. “He’s got a great arm.”

An avid reader, Thomas still managed to find time for video games, a hobby his mother deplored, and that sparked an on-going interest in technology in all its applications. Of course, you can see this interest displayed in the columns Thomas writes for every issue of this newspaper, which are generally on topics - the large hadron collider, the new generation of photovoltaic cells - that most teenagers aren’t aware of.

He also uses this talent and knowledge as part of his technology classes at Clark Fork High School with Gary Quinn, and as a member of the Technology Student Association. Thomas brought home a bronze medal from state competition this year, for an architectural model of a low-income housing project utilizing “green” materials. Although the son of a quality builder, father Dan isn’t sure Thomas got his skill from his exposure to his dad’s work - “I think I got maybe 15 minutes of work out of him the whole time he was growing up!” he laughed.

“Thomas is one of those people who can see the truth really well,” Lynn said, and Dan shared that he has always told Thomas to live by the code of the West - “tell the truth, defend the defenseless, and don’t spit in front of women and children.” As honest as Thomas is, that doesn’t stop him from being an incredible storyteller. “Well, he does have a great sense of humor, and he’s quite the practical joker,” Lynn admitted.

Thomas became one of my extra kids when he began dating my daughter, Amy, a relationship that’s gone on for the last two years. When you have a very sweet - and very beautiful - young daughter, you don’t want them to date just anyone. I was happy with Amy’s choice of Thomas. And I asked him to write for the River Journal after learning about the whoppers he was telling her, that she was gullible enough to believe. His best might have been the one about the problem we’re having in this area with “rabid duck photographers.” When I asked Amy how she could fall for such an obvious tall tale, she told me, “But Mom, you have to hear how he tells it!”

Thomas will graduate this year with a 3.2 GPA, “pretty good for a kid who never does his homework,” Dan laughed, and has earned Athlete of the Year for tennis in his sophomore year, and, in “the proudest moment of his dad’s life,” was presented with the Sportsmanship Award for basketball this year.

“He’s a good kid,” Dan said. “He steps up to the plate in difficult situations, he has a great sense of humor and a quick wit. He’s very intellectual and really likes learning things.”

And, like Mikey, he’s just an all-around good kid. I have been lucky to have these two young men as my extra kids, and I will be beaming with pride and crying my eyes out as they graduate next week. And even though they both eat like horses, I will miss them very much when they leave for college.

Thank you, Mike and Thomas, for being an important part of our lives.

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Landon Otis

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Mike Martin Jr, Thomas McMahon, graduation, CFHS

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