NCAA Iowa South Carolina Basketball

Iowa guard Kate Martin (20) grabs a rebound in front of South Carolina forward Chloe Kitts (21) during the first half of the Final Four college basketball championship game in the women’s NCAA Tournament, Sunday, April 7.

While their daughter inspires millions of fans and viewers, Jill and Matt Martin inspire an audience of students each day.

Both are teachers in the Quad-Cities area — a role they balance with parenting “the glue” of the Iowa Hawkeyes women’s basketball team: Kate Martin.

To her parents, she bonds more than just her teammates together — she’s the glue of their family.

“It’s brought all of us together consistently, regularly, and we have so much fun when we’re together,” Jill said of Kate’s esteemed collegiate career. “I look forward to that more than I do the games.”

For example, a handy portion of Jill’s extended family is attending the Hawk

“The true ‘glue’ has been the bond for our family,” Matt added.

Still, seeing their daughter compete at the NCAA Division I level — and specifically, with the Iowa Hawkeyes — didn’t come as a surprise to Jill and Matt.

Kate had these plans all along.

“She started dreaming about playing at Iowa when she was, probably, 5 years old,” Jill said, explaining how Kate attended “Junior Hawk” and other Iowa women’s basketball camps growing up each summer.

When she was in sixth grade, Kate had to write a letter to her future self for English class. These letters were returned to Kate and her classmates after they graduated high school.

“It said, ‘Hi Kate. When you’re reading this, I hope you have committed to play basketball at the University of Iowa,’” Jill said. “It’s been her dream her whole entire life — and it came true.”

Matt said playing at the DI level often requires more than just time commitments and hard work, noting factors such as genetics, AAU exposure, high school size and networking connections.

One connection the family leveraged, for example, was assistant coach Jan Jensen, who’s married to Julie Fitzpatrick, Jill’s older sister.

“There’s only so much you can control, so we focused on (those) things, like your attitude and effort, right?” Matt said. “We’ve always supported their (children’s) dream, you know? We tried to make sure they had the resources needed to be their best.”

Playing multiple sports, he added, was one tactic he promoted to help build his kids’ athleticism.

This is why Kate played volleyball, too, at Edwardsville High School — though, Matt said, this wasn’t without some contention.

Raising Kate

A young Kate Martin goes fishing

Iowa women’s basketball guard Kate Martin pictured fishing as a child, courtesy of Jill and Matt Martin.

“She’s had a ball in her hands since she could play,” dribbling as early as age 3, Jill said. “She joined her first (organized) team at age 5 … She spent a lot of time at the YMCA (growing up) playing pickup.”

It must run in the family, as Matt played DI football at Western Illinois University with his twin brother. Before WIU he also played basketball and threw shot-put at Richwoods High School in Peoria.

While Jill met Matt at WIU, eighth grade was the extent of her basketball career, though she played tennis in high school.

Additionally, Kate’s older sister, Kennedy, played DII basketball at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.

When she was little, Jill and Matt recall Kate having a peculiar love of motorcycles — even owning her own, battery-operated version — and a high reservoir for energy.

“She was a tomboy with a capital ‘T,’” Matt said with a chuckle. “As a little kid, she always stood when she’d eat … I don’t know if it was because she was our third (and youngest) kid, and we were exhausted, but we just let her be. If you want to stand and eat, stand and eat — we just let her be her.”

Since she was little, Kate’s been up for a challenge.

“She always loved doing difficult things and trying to master them,” Matt added. “Whether it was a RipStik (skateboard), or learning how to throw a frisbee, whatever it was, she liked the challenge.”

Kate Martin’s “glue” to the Quad-Cities

Kate Martin has appeared in commercials for Zimmerman Honda and Mel Foster Co.

How did Kate Martin, from Edwardsville, Illinois, land NIL (name, image and likeness) deals in the Quad-Cities?

The short answer, seemingly, is that her parents moved here to teach in June 2023 but there are deeper roots.

Jill was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa.

She attended John F. Kennedy (K-8) Catholic School, Assumption High School for a year and finished at Davenport North High School with her brother, Tom.

Teachers and coaches

Naturally, this quality lent itself to Kate’s basketball skills and subsequent career — but so did her parents’ background in teaching.

“Since I was very young, I just knew the two things I wanted to be was a mom and a teacher,” Jill said.

Both she and Matt come from a long line of educators. Her grandmother, for example, taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Clinton County, Iowa.

“I (also) knew I wanted to have kids someday, and I knew I wanted to coach. Putting that all together, you know, teaching seemed to be the (right) career,” Matt said. “And, as I look back, some of the most influential people in my life were teachers and coaches.”

Matt currently teaches driver’s education at United Township. He coached all three of his kids’ basketball teams up to 7th grade. He also coached Kate’s football team in fourth grade.

With his coaching and teaching experience, he’s seen his fair share of young athletes.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some tremendous athletes. Some are successful, and (others) who maybe didn’t reach their potential, so I got to share that with my kids,” Matt said, citing this as an advantage not all parents have. “Then, of course, they had to make their choices on what they wanted to be.”

Kate made the choice — loud and clear.

Putting in the work

“If you asked her to go shoot or go work on drills, she never said no,” Matt said. “She was always wanting to put that work in … It’s just crazy the amount of success she’s been part of (at all levels.)”

While he’s been the primary “coach” for the Martin family, Jill serves as the behind-the-scenes support system.

“I think I was more of their taxi driver,” she said with a laugh. “It was my job to make sure they were fed and at the places they needed to be at the right time.”

On this front, Jill refers to her “ungodly patience” — a quality she often uses with her fifth-graders at Andalusia Elementary School, too.

“I don’t know, I just kind of ‘rolled with the punches’ and made sure my kids were involved in the things that they loved,” she said. “And, tried to love them while they did it at the same time.”

Hawkeyes’ rise to fame

The Iowa women’s basketball team — captained by Kate — has been key in charting the course for a new, trailblazing era in women’s athletics.

Noting the Hawkeye women’s basketball coaching staff, Matt recalls having a conversation with Kate about the team’s potential after Caitlin Clark’s freshman year.

“Now, if I would have told you, three years ago, that I saw them going back-to-back in the Final Four, that would be a lie,” he said.

Matt said his first big sense of Kate and her teammates’ stardom hit during a softball fundraiser in Cedar Rapids last June, which also featured professional athletes — even from his generation.

“I watched Hannah (Stuelke) and Kate sign autographs in between every inning. I mean, it wasn’t even close how many autographs they signed compared to these other (pro) athletes,” he said. “Jill and I were sitting in the stands, and we started seeing the craziness and the traction that this team and (players) have.”

To Jill, though, it’s still hard to gauge Kate’s nationwide impact and celebrity.

“It’s hard for me to see it that way, because I’m just her mother,” she said. “I’m making sure she slept well the night before, I’m asking her ‘How do you feel? Did you eat well?’ and things like that.”

Speaking to the Quad-City Times/Dispatch-Argus Thursday, despite the gravity of Friday’s game, Jill planned to follow her and Kate’s usual pre-game routine: Sending a “Good Luck” text and an athlete’s prayer.

“She’ll probably FaceTime Carson,” Kate’s six-month-old nephew, she added. “I’m certain that she prays (before games.)”

Jill said she’s not worried about “those other things,” and isn’t on social media often.

“Maybe someday, after it’s all said and done, it’ll seem (more monumental),” she said.