Highlanders in the News: Week of July 31, 2023

Every other week, our Highlanders are using their education to do extraordinary things. Here, we’ll highlight some notable mentions from local, regional, national and international news media. Whether our students, alumni, faculty and staff are featured as subject matter experts in high-profile stories or simply helping make the world a better place, we’ll feature their stories

Martin Sayer ’09, MBA ‘10

Saying goodbye to a tennis legend

Late last month, family members, friends and fans bid farewell to Martin Sayer ’09, MBA ‘10, Radford University's all-time winningest men's tennis player and a former head women's tennis coach.

Sayer died in his sleep while at home on July 25, 2023, at age 36.

He was "the greatest men's tennis player in Radford University history," according to a July 26 story about his passing by sportswriter Mark Berman. That report also appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Born in Hong Kong, Sayer was nationally ranked since he arrived at Radford in 2005 – the first Highlander to achieve that distinction – and became one of the most prominent tennis athletes in the history of both the school and the Big South Conference, reaching extensive levels of success not previously achieved by Radford's players.

He was a four-time Big South Player of the Year, taking the Big South singles crown each year, as well as Mideast Region Rookie of the Year. Across his four seasons at the No. 1 singles position, from 2005 to 2009, he won a school record of 114 matches. During each of his four years of student play, he was selected for the NCAA Singles Championship.

Here’s a Big South video profile of Sayer, produced in 2009 during his senior year.

Internationally, he climbed as high as 25th in the Junior World Rankings and later represented Hong Kong on its Davis Cup team, according to his obituary.

In addition to getting his bachelor's degree as an undergraduate, Sayer also earned his MBA at Radford while acting as the men's assistant coach. He enjoyed a distinguished career as Radford's women's coach before departing to serve as an assistant coach of the Virginia Tech men's tennis program in early 2016.

“He cared about the kids,” Hokie's men's coach Jim Thompson told Berman. “Just an unbelievable person."

Funeral services were held Thursday, August 3, and a GoFundMe effort has been established in Sayer’s memory.  

Chris Ramsey, M.S. ’97

Hail to the chief

A Radford University graduate and educator with more than 20 years in law enforcement has been named the new chief of the Christiansburg Police Department.

Maj. Chris Ramsey, M.S. ’97, will take charge of that office Sept. 1, succeeding current chief Mark Sisson, who will retire at the end of this month after nearly 30 years on the force.

Ramsey previously worked as a clerk and a professional standards lieutenant before becoming a captain of operations in 2009 and then assistant police chief in 2017.

From 2014 to 2020, Ramsey was an adjunct instructor for Radford University, teaching a class called “Police & Society.”

In a July 25 Roanoke Times story about his new position, Ramsey said: “It has been a privilege to have served my community alongside the men and women of the Christiansburg Police Department… I am fortunate to be assuming command of an excellent department staffed by the finest officers.”

His promotion was also covered by WSET-TV, WFXR-TV, West Virginia’s the Daily Reformer, the Montgomery News Messenger and the Radford News Journal.

Ramsey is just one of several Highlanders who have joined the ranks of Virginia’s police chiefs lately. Last summer, Capt. Todd Brewster ’96 was tapped to head the Blacksburg Police Department, and earlier this year Christopher Settle ’97 was promoted to the top of the Culpeper (Virginia) Police Department.

Director of Recreation and Wellness D.J. Preston

Recreation and reflection

Radford University’s Director of Recreation and Wellness, D.J. Preston, was part of a roundtable panel hosted last month by the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) and its president, Wendy Windsor.

For the first episode of a NIRSA series called, “Hidden Talents,” Preston sat down for a video chat with Windsor and three other higher education professionals: Ashford Evans-Brown, assistant director of fitness facility operations at Florida State University; Carlos Garcia, aquatics director at Texas A&M University; and Natalie Rosales-Hawkins, assistant director of recreational programs at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

In addition to sharing similar fields, Preston and the others are also first-generation college students, and over the course of the 30-minute discussion, they talk about their work, their lives, their motivations and how they were shaped in part by crossing the unfamiliar terrain they had to navigate on the way to their eventual successes.

“I felt I was always a little … like a step behind everything else that people knew,” Preston explains in the video. “Then I started hearing about ‘first generation,’ so that made sense.”

“You start to see different things, and you’re like: Hold on, there’s a whole other side of this thing that I didn’t get, and I’ve got to try to catch up pretty quickly to understand all of these things that are going on.”

True to the series’ title, Preston also discloses his own hidden talents in the show’s close-out: He plays piano and drums.

Aug 4, 2023
Neil Harvey