Twenty-five years is a long time, a quarter of a century, to be focused on one thing. That’s exactly what former Marianna High coach Travis Blanton would be reminiscing about with the 2017-18 high school basketball season right around the corner – IF this were three years ago.
Blanton left his coaching career behind him last May of 2015 to move into administration with the Jackson County School Board. Being named an assistant principal at Grand Ridge Middle School, Blanton readily admitted he was glad his new job found him busier than a weatherman in a tornado, “The job kept me busy; it kept my mind from wandering and thinking about the past 25 years. There’s not a lot of down time here and that’s a good thing because I need to stay that way and not dwell on the what ifs. “
Returning to MHS this year as an assistant is another hurdle of adjusting to ‘watching’ as the basketball program he called his for a dozen plus years is now under the leadership of someone new – someone Blanton has a ton of confidence in doing a great job, “Coach Williams is a great coach, an awesome man and he will do a fine job and that certainly makes it easier for me to be at the end of the court as an administrator instead of wanting to be courtside and calling the plays.”
Blanton spent 15+ years as the head coach of the Bulldogs. Prior to being named head coach at MHS, he had coached at the then Grand Ridge High School. But Blanton’s love of the game began much earlier than his coaching career. He played high school basketball at his alma mater under Coach Randy Free. If he wasn’t on the court, and anyone else was, you could count on seeing Blanton there. According to his mom in his younger years, “he woke up with ball on his mind, went through the day with it on his mind, and went to bed with it. If we’d allowed it, he would have had a ball at the dinner table.” That’s the true testament of a love of the game.
Aside from coaching a team on the court, Blanton strived to coach them into fine young men off the court. He took a personal interest in each and every player who came through his program. He could be seen with them off the court in many venues away from basketball.
Blanton says he was very fortunate to have had very influential people in his life when he was coming up through school and through his coaching career. Now that he is in an administrative position, he feels equally as fortunate, “When you’re coaching you have a bond with the kids that is like no other that you can imagine. Now as an administrator, I have been fortunate to have had great administrators during my school years as a student and great ones who I taught and coached under. I have tried to take from my own experiences with my administrators, to follow in the footsteps of those who impacted me, who were able to reach me when I needed to be brought back from where I strayed. I hope to be able to have students say to me one day that I made a difference in their life. As a coach, kids are like sponges, eagerly absorbing everything you say, every technique. From an administrative standpoint, you have a different relationship with them. You have to use different approaches than on the court or on the field.”
Blanton says one thing is for sure, you will see him at the games this year – not on the sideline, but in the crowds, working on crowd control and enjoying the game from a different perspective. Blanton admits this is going to be a different experience for him especially coming back to Marianna High where he spent so many years on the very court he will now be ‘supervising’, “You know you stand on the side of the court or even back in my playing days when I was on the court, and you see things differently. As a coach or a player, you see things that other coaches or players do and you think to yourself, wow, I would have done this or would have done that. One thing about watching this year’s team is, yes, there are going to be some times that I have a yearn to be there but I have the utmost confidence in Coach Williams. He’s a fine coach with a proven record with our junior varsity team and as an assistant with the varsity for many years and I look forward to seeing the success of the players, seeing what all they can accomplish.”
Alongside his coaching career, Blanton has always maintained a regular classroom where he taught a variety of courses including personal fitness and various physical education classes. Blanton said the classroom gives you a different angle with the students than coaching, and now as an administrator, “On the court, or even on the field, kids look at you in a different way than they do a ‘real’ teacher. They see you as helping them get to the NBA, the NFL, wherever. In the classroom, they think that you’re there to ‘force’ school on them. As a teacher, I tried to impress upon them the importance of higher learning especially in the world we now live in, that without a college education or some type of technical or vocational training, they were in for a lot of manual labor and a very frugal income to raise a family.” Blanton said on the court he tried to stress the same thing but in a different manner, “I let them know not many athletes, ratio wise, hit the big leagues right out of high school and even less make it to the highest level, that if you have an education, you have something to fall back on.”
As an administrator, he has to incorporate the importance of doing the right thing, “I have to handle the discipline referrals as part of my job as an administrator and I strive to really stress to students that, in life, there are bosses, co-workers, whoever. You are not going to agree with them on everything and that they have to take the high road and not let their tempers get the best of them. I let them know that their ‘record’, so to speak, follows them throughout life and they should let it be a good one that people see when they look at it.”
Blanton gives a lot of credit to his mom for the morals she instilled in him, “My mom had a lot of responsibility in where I am today. She made sure I knew right from wrong and when I slipped, tough love was not a problem for her to enforce. My wife and kids have always supported me in whatever I chose to do and that in itself goes a long way in helping to make my decisions.”