DALTON, GA (WRCB) - Dalton will celebrate favorite son J.R. Martinez with a parade and a pep session when he comes home for a visit Saturday, January 7.
Just five days after he serves as Grand Marshal in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, CA, Martinez will lead a parade in his honor through the streets of downtown Dalton, his adopted hometown since he came to live here with his mother 10 years ago.
Martinez, a 2002 graduate of Dalton High School and Iraqi war veteran, has served as a motivational speaker and actor in the intervening years and was recently crowned champion of the 13th season of ABC television's popular show, "Dancing with the Stars." He was also recently named one of People Magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive."
The January 7 event will mark the second time the community has honored Martinez with a parade. The first occurred in 2003 when Martinez returned to a hero's welcome after being seriously injured in Iraq. A police escort led the way down Walnut Avenue to the Kmart parking lot where hundreds of local well-wishers cheered Martinez who was home between surgeries for burns that covered more than 40 percent of his body.
"The first time, Dalton held a parade to lift J.R.'s spirits," said former Dalton High School Football Coach and Athletic Director Ronnie McClurg, who serves on a committee spearheading the January 7 celebration. "This time, we want to thank him for lifting our spirits at a time when we needed something to cheer for."
"This community has been struggling," said Dana Holsomback, chair of the Leadership Dalton- Whitfield Alumni Association. "With plant closings and record levels of unemployment, we needed a champion and week after week (during the 12-week Dancing with the Stars season), J.R. was there to lift our spirits." Leadership Dalton Whitfield Alumni Association is an affiliate of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsor of J.R. Martinez Day: A Welcome Home Celebration.
From the beginning, Martinez was a favorite on the popular ABC dance series as viewers were enchanted by the ebullient and ever-optimistic Martinez who turned out to be a natural on the dance floor.
A point of pride for North Georgians can be found in his Dancing with the Stars online biography in which it states that Martinez was born in Shreveport, LA and grew up in Hope, AR, moving to Dalton when he was 17 – it is Dalton, the biography states, "that he proudly calls his hometown."
"J.R. loves Dalton and Dalton loves J.R.," said Coach McClurg, inviting local patriots and Dalton High Catamounts and Dancing with the Stars fans to turn out to either march in the parade or stand on the sidelines to watch the parade.
"We are so fortunate to have the Dalton Lions Club, which sponsors the Christmas Parade, and the American Legion, which sponsors our annual Veterans Day Parade, working together to coordinate the Welcome Home Celebration for J.R.," added Holsomback. "With these two fine groups working together, this could be the best parade Dalton's ever seen." To encourage participation there will be no fee charged for parade entries.
The parade is scheduled to wind through downtown Dalton at 1 p.m. on Saturday, January 7 with a pep session to follow at Harmon Field.
"The parade entry form can be accessed online at www.daltonnoonlionsclub.net for groups that want to host a float in the parade," she said. "We do ask that all parade entries decorate around the themes of either patriotism or Dalton Catamounts or Dancing with the Stars."
The pep session will include special presentations and a few surprises, Holsomback said. In addition, Martinez is anxious to meet his Greater Dalton neighbors and will be available for photos and autographs.
"We want this to be a very special day not just for J.R. but for this community," said Coach McClurg. "Ten years ago J.R. came here from outside and adopted us as his hometown. He claimed us and we embraced him. We've seen him struggle and he's seen us struggle. J.R.'s infectious personality and fighting spirit have inspired us since we first came to know him a decade ago and now we share him with America.
"He's proud to call Dalton his hometown and we're proud to call him one of our own. Come celebrate with us," he said.