Glencoe's Blackwell resigns
Mon. June 17, 2013 at 11:11 p.m. | By Nick Johnston Sports Writer
John Blackwell recorded a 370-161 record during his tenure with the Glencoe girls basketball program. (Photo by Nick Johnston | Gadsden Times | File)
GLENCOE — John Blackwell had just wrapped up his first year as the Glencoe High School girls basketball coach.
The Yellow Jackets had struggled throughout the 1995-96 season, ending the campaign 4-18. He sat down with his team in the locker room after the 18th loss in the final game of the season and told them how proud he was of them. He let the soon-to-be seniors know he wanted them to work hard in the offseason and come back stronger for the their final year.
“And I want us to win more than four and not lose as many as 18,” Blackwell recalled saying.
When he said that, a player looked at him and said, “Coach, you mean we lost 18 games?”
“I laugh about that now, but as I look at that, that’s how focused those girls were on being committed to what I was trying to teach and what we were trying to get started here at Glencoe,” Blackwell said.
What that first group started for Blackwell was a successful 18-year career filled with 370 wins, multiple Etowah County championships and a trip to the Final Four.
And, now, it’s time to pass the torch.
Blackwell announced Monday he was resigning both his coaching and teaching position at Glencoe. He will begin teaching at Sand Rock in the fall, pending Cherokee County Board of Education approval.
For Blackwell, who lives just a few miles from Sand Rock and has made the drive to Glencoe every day for 18 years, it’s a move centered around his family.
“This position would allow me to spend more time to be at home with my family, spend more time with my parents on the farm,” Blackwell said.
It was a difficult decision to make, and Blackwell got emotional while talking about his time with the school.
“I feel like at Glencoe, I’m safe,” he said. “I have tenure, I have a wonderful principal to work for and I have a good teaching schedule. My basketball players work as hard as any team I’ve ever coached before. Everything is safe at Glencoe. But, my family for nearly two decades has sacrificed for me to be at Glencoe. Now, it’s time for to sacrifice for them.”
Glencoe principal Charlton Giles said he was shocked when Blackwell told him his decision. Giles even used the word “numb.”
“But when he told me why, and knowing the Christian man he is. ... He made a family decision,” Giles said. “I’ll always support him and always think highly of him.”
Giles said the next Etowah County Board of Education meeting is July 9, and ideally he would like to have someone to replace Blackwell by then. But, “we’re going to take our time and make sure that we make the best decision for the program as a whole. That’s exactly what John Blackwell would want us to do as well.”
Blackwell never intended to be a coach, but one of the stipulations of being hired as a science and history teacher in 1995 was that he coach the girls basketball team. He played under Hall of Fame coach L.D. Dobbins at Collinsville and graduated from the school in 1985. He went to Gadsden State and after graduating worked as an electrician and plant manager for a concrete plant. He then decided he wanted to be a teacher and went back to Gadsden State and Jacksonville State to earn his teaching degree.
Blackwell went 370-161 during his tenure with the Yellow Jackets. His teams reached the postseason 15 times, won 10 area championships and advanced to the Northeast Regional at Jacksonville State nine times.
Also during his time at Glencoe he won eight Etowah County championships, piled up an .800 winning percentage against Etowah County foes and went 159-34 at home.
He’s also proud of the fact that all 67 girls who have played for him and graduated reached the regional tournament at some point in the career.
He takes with him several cherished memories, like his first team, the squad that reached the Final Four in 2009 and coaching his daughter Victoria.
“The anticipation of coaching Victoria was very exciting,” Blackwell said. “Unfortunately, she was injured three of the four years she played for me. We did go to the Final Four, went to Jacksonville three times and won two county championships when she played. That was some of the most successful times we had.”
It wasn’t just about being able to coach his daughter, though.
“To have her raised in this program, she grew up looking at (former Yellow Jackets) Meridith Toney, Morgan Talbot, Paige Gulledge,” Blackwell said. “She saw how those girls were not just good basketball players, they were good girls. The example those older girls were for her and making her the young woman she is today was big.”
Blackwell also mentioned former player Kelly Wallace, who, as an underclassman, was involved in an automobile accident and suffered severe damage to her legs.
“She had played basketball, and doctors told her she would never run and potentially have trouble walking normal,” said Blackwell, beginning to choke up. “But she told them that not only would she run, that she was going to play basketball.”
She did for her senior year.
“She didn’t care if she played,” he said. “Her goal was to get a varsity uniform and just run out of the locker room with that uniform on.”
As for his legacy at Glencoe, he hopes every player would say he cared more for them outside the gym than inside.
“That’s the message I tried to get across to every player I coached,” Blackwell said. “I want you to be successful in basketball and I want you to leave this program better than you found it. But most importantly, I want you to be a successful person in your life and end up being a successful wife, successful mother and successful in your career.”
He will miss the rivalries that have grown throughout the years, especially with Hokes Bluff, Southside and Gaston.
“I always enjoy coaching against those good programs with good coaches,” he said. “I knew every night we could beat them, but I also knew every night they could beat us.”
Moving forward, Blackwell likes the talent on next year’s Glencoe team and said it has the chance to be one of the school’s best. It’s another reason the decision to leave now is so tough.
“This next year’s team, wow, they’ve got the potential to be one of the best teams to come through here,” he said. “There’s just two seniors, the juniors and sophomores are very strong and there’s a good junior high group coming.
“Hopefully, they’ll understand it’s a family decision. A lot of my decisions over the past 18 years, my family has not been the primary decision. They’ve sacrificed for me to do things here. Nothing against this group here, it’s just time to put my family first in making a decision.”