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Team Martin shines at event
Bus drivers compete at Safety Roadeo
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Forsyth County bus drivers Becky Martin, left, and Louise Martin, traveled to Orlando, Fla., to take part in a national skills competition. - photo by Jim Dean
The school bus slid on any icy patch and into some parked cars.

With smoke rising from the engine, two drivers had precious time to get their special needs students off the bus.

Thankfully for these Forsyth County drivers, the scenario was just a skills test, part of the 13th National Special Needs Team Safety Roadeo.

Louise and Becky Martin, recently dubbed “Team Martin,” were the first to represent the county at nationals after placing first in the district competition and second at the state meet.

As of late last week, the results for nationals had not been released for teams that did not place in the top three.

After the icy mock wreck, it took the Martins, no relation, about two minutes to evacuate their students, played by actors.

“That one fit in perfectly with what we’ve been dealing with in the county,” Becky Martin said with a smile.

Though the scenario may have seemed unlikely while competing in Orlando, Fla., the women agree they need to be prepared for anything in their line of work.

“You just kind of never know until you get [to the competition] what you’re going to get and then you have to react,” Becky Martin said. “Of course, that’s what it’s like on the bus.”

They do get to learn about each child’s needs ahead of the competition, so they can plan how to help them.

In general, working with special needs children can complicate regular operating procedures on the bus.

Changing a child’s seat or driver can be upsetting, so remaining calm and ready in a time of crisis is crucial.

It may have its challenges, but Becky Martin said she always knew she wanted to work with special needs children.

“They tug at your heart strings,” she said. “I know that I can be the first smile to start their school day off and I can be the last one.”

She signed on to be a bus driver with Forsyth County in 2006, combining a relative’s bus-driving profession with her own past work doing therapy for special needs children.

Louise Martin has been driving a school bus for 28 years in Forsyth. She started so she’d be able to transport her own children, but traded in her big bus two years ago to work with special needs children.

“I love special ed ... love the other ones too,” said Louise Martin, who is affectionately known as “Weezy” by some of her special needs students. “I love kids better than anything.”

In those two years, the Martins have competed together after being introduced by Becky Martin’s mother-in-law.

To train for the state and national competitions, they practiced five days a week starting after the Christmas break.

They try to run through all the events they may face in competition, from securing wheelchairs or car seats to driving through a curvy course while the other keeps children behaved.

Fellow bus drivers and staff members pose as the actors, attempting to simulate various situations that may arise with the children.

At the national competition, Becky Martin had to calm a girl while also stopping a bully who had been teasing her.

All the while, Louise Martin steered through the coned course, which can come down to inches in the precise judging.

When they weren’t competing, the Martins were able to compare notes with other drivers from across the country and attend classes on issues related to their field.

While the competition is intended as a fun way to show off skills, improving drivers is a latent function, said Garry Puetz, Forsyth County’s director of transportation.

“They came back just so excited and so appreciative of the opportunity to learn more about their job,” he said.

Team Martin is gearing up for a third run together, starting with the county’s “Roadeo” for regular and special needs drivers in May.

The county has held one for regular bus drivers for many years, though the special needs contest is in just its third year, Puetz said. The newness made heading to the national competition a “great accomplishment.”

“I know how passionate both Becky and Louise are about protecting their students,” he said. “It’s great that drivers with the heart that they have have really been recognized for doing a great job at what they love to do.”