Community organizers will hold a parade and celebration for J.R. Martinez, a 2002 Dalton High School graduate and the recent “Dancing With the Stars” champion, on Saturday, Jan. 7. The parade begins at 1 p.m. and will follow the annual downtown Christmas parade route. At approximately 3 p.m. there will be a celebration/pep rally at Harmon Field for Martinez.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Haynes Townsend, who is helping organize the parade. “The main thrust of this is to honor J.R. and what he’s accomplished, what he’s been through and what he continues to do through his motivational speaking.”
Last month, Martinez won season 13 of “Dancing With the Stars,” beating out fellow finalists reality show participant Rob Kardashian and television personality Ricki Lake.
Townsend is a parade veteran. He’s a member of the Dalton Noon Lions Club, which has put on the Dalton Christmas parade for 24 years. Also helping to organize the parade/celebration are Dewey Moss, who coordinates the Veterans Day Parade with the American Legion; Ronnie McClurg, the former Dalton High School football coach; and several others, including the Leadership Dalton-Whitfield Alumni Association, which is an affiliate of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce and co-sponsor of “J.R. Martinez Day: A Welcome Home Celebration.”
“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.”
Martinez was severely injured while serving with the Army in Iraq. He is known nationally as a motivational speaker and played the character of “Brot Monroe” for three years on the ABC soap opera “All My Children.” Since his appearances on “Dancing With the Stars,” he’s made the cover of People magazine, been on its list of “Sexiest Men Alive,” was named grand marshal of the Rose Bowl parade, appeared on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and several other talk shows, and has been interviewed by hundreds of media outlets.
The celebration/pep rally at Harmon Field will give fans a chance to interact with Martinez. He will sign autographs before and after taking the stage on the field where he played high school football. Martinez will also be available for photographs. The Dalton High School band and cheerleaders are expected to attend.
There is no fee for parade entries. One requirement is that entries meet one of three themes: Dalton Catamounts, “Dancing With the Stars” or patriotism.
“This is a community service we’re trying to perform here,” Townsend said. “We want to have a good representation of people down there from all walks of life.”
A few details haven’t been decided. Townsend said organizers aren’t sure if there will be a cutoff number for parade entries. Also, staging may be at either the First Baptist Church of Dalton or Dalton High School.
Entry forms are expected to be available today at www.daltonnoonlionsclub.net. Completed forms can be dropped off at First Bank of Dalton locations in east Dalton or on Shugart Road.
This will be the second parade the Dalton community has held for Martinez.
In 2003 when Martinez returned to Dalton after being seriously injured in Iraq, a police escort led him on Walnut Avenue to the Kmart parking lot where hundreds of area residents greeted him. He came 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,” McClurg said. “This time, we want to thank him for lifting our spirits at a time when we needed something to cheer for.”
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