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Union AD retires after years of service

JACKSON, Tenn. - 8/5/2008 - David Blackstock was the coach of the 1998 women's basketball team that won a national championship

By Matt Vines, The Jackson Sun, August 3, 2008
Read complete story on JacksonSun.com

Thirty-four years of service as an athletic director and a NAIA women's basketball title to go along with 874 total wins in three sports.

And they didn't even let him keep his desk until he was officially retired.

Union athletic director David Blackstock served his last day Thursday, ending one of the most storied runs in West Tennessee collegiate athletics.

The West Tennessee legend didn't have much need for his office furniture in the last week of his tenure because he and fellow Union sports administrator Tommy Sadler rubbed elbows with one of New York City's legends that will also be retiring - Yankee Stadium.

The Jackson Sun spoke with Blackstock about his stay in the "House That Ruth Built" and his memories of building Union into one of the top small sports programs in the nation.

Q: How did you become a Yankees fan?
A: I really don't know. I was a Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Roger Maris fan. They were the best of the best when I was growing up. When I was 15, my dad worked for the railroad. We got a free ride on a train to New York where my mother's sister was living at the time. I forgot how we got a ticket, but we got in (Yankee Stadium). We sat in center field because that's where Mantle lived. The smallest guy on the field, Luis Apparizio, hit the home run to win the game and beat the Yankees. We had traveled all the distance for one game but it was a great experience. Except for pitching, the guys back then are still better to me than the guys making $20 million today. A lot of the players back then had second jobs because they only played in certain months.

Q: Was it surreal to revisit Yankee Stadium, especially with it being in its last year?
A: What is funny is that there is less than 100 feet between the old and the new because they haven't torn it down. But it seems like such a waste when a place has such a great heritage. They will make the new stadium a lot nicer because the old stadium had very narrow seats. There were some areas at certain places in the stadium that get blazing hot in July and August. I hope to get to see some ball games in there too.

Q: How did you get the tickets?
A: Tommy Sadler took pictures for the Diamond Jaxx for several years. He got to know (Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley) and knew a lot of the players because they would ask for copies of pictures back home. We called Trembley and he got tickets from Alan Dunn, who was a Jaxx pitching instructor and now in Baltimore. We got to go down during batting practice which was a lot of fun.

Q: Being the last year in Yankee Stadium, was it something special to see?
A: We took as many pictures as we could. It's just a new place to watch a ballgame and realize that you are in the same place as Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle and all of them. It was neat. New York fans aren't like any others either. They get rowdy at good plays and they get rowdy at bad plays. It's hard to know what they are doing.

Q: With 34 years of service coming to an end, what are some of the emotions and memories going through your mind?
A: One of things I have been thinking about is, "What in the world am I going to do?" My days have been pretty planned out for 34 years. But that's not anything different than what anybody else goes through after being in a job that they love for a long time. I have got to find other things. I am fortunate that I can stay on a couple of years here, and hopefully I can help in different capacities.

Q: With so many memories, is there one that sticks out in your mind as the day is coming to an end?
A: There are really two memories. One in baseball when Dr. Linn Stranak and I coached in 1983. Our team made the (NAIA) World Series in Lubbock, Texas and finished third. We were close to not going, but we had a grand slam hit on the final day of the tournament to send us to Lubbock. We still talk about that one.

And then in 1998, we had a group of wonderful young ladies who came together and had lots of skill. They had more determination and skill, and won the (NAIA) national championship. It is a rare thing, and that is very special. We are trying to get that bunch back for homecoming because of the 10-year anniversary.

Q: You played baseball here at Union?
A: Yep. I had great years and great teammates. At that time the NCAA only went to the Mid-East Regionals for smaller schools, and so we were national champs in 1963 and finished second in 1964. The school got to choose whether it played at the university level or college level (smaller). You could do whatever, it was just how much you wanted to pay for an entry fee. We played in the college division, but we played against folks like Southern Illinois and other larger schools. But they weren't better. They didn't have some of the camaraderie that we did. You don't really remember situations as much as you remember friendships.

Q: There are many tough times over a career. What was your toughest time?
A: There was one that none of us will ever forget (February tornadoes). Even in tragedy, some things come out of it that make you stronger. It makes you look at things in a different light. Things did get pretty down after that, but life goes on. There are wonderful memories and wonderful friendships even during tough times.

Q: Even after retirement, will you be around Union?
A: I will be around. My wife tells me I am getting so around that I will blow up. The first thing I need to do is to go on a diet. I have been helped by so many people along the way, and maybe I can try to help other folks.

Q: Your job as AD and a coach is time-consuming. Is there something special you are planning with your wife?
A: I think she is really worried that I am going to be home all the time. I have been blessed. Marriages seem to come and go in today's society, and we have been married 40 years, have two great kids. Armita is the one. They say that the whistle doesn't pull the train, but the whistle pulls our train.

Q: Union is a successful TranSouth program now and has been successful for a long time. What is the biggest difference between then and now, and how do you view your accomplishments?
A: Comparing the two is like daylight and dark. The older people of Jackson will know about Death Valley where the Bulldogs played, and the gym on College Street next to the football stadium where I grew up. It was a great time in which to grow up. I wish all the young people in the world could understand what the 50s and 60s were like in terms of going to school and living in communities where people care about each other. If you visited a friend's home and you acted up, the friend's parents would discipline you and vice-versa. Life was at a slower pace. A person's word and handshake seemed to mean more back then. Yet it's a great time to be alive today with the technology. But if I had to pick one time period for young people to grow up, it would be the one in which I grew up in.

Q: What will you miss the most about this job?
A: The people. No doubt about it. I have seen their kids grow up. I dealt with needs they had, and the administration has made sure that there have been quality of people here. They made it possible for us to compete with other schools. The coaches' budgets are very important, and we are at a level where athletics requires a great deal of time and money.

Q: There have always been rumors that Union will add football. What have been some of the factors to not bring football back?
A: Football has been discussed numerous times in my 34 years, but it has become such a costly sport. By the time you have a practice and game field, 100 to 120 players and proper equipment and a field house, it gets to be quite costly. My brother was a member of the last football team in 1952 under coach Bobby Jelks, who was inducted into the Union Hall of Fame. They did well. Most of the schools that are Union's size or smaller that have football now started out to bring in students. That has definitely worked, but it brings in lots of things that schools of our philosophy would be reluctant to have. We have to be sure what we our getting for our money.

Q: Lambuth and Union seem to have this rivalry that stretches back. What has that been like, and will that diminish if Lambuth is accepted into the NCAA?
A: Each school had fraternities and sororities. We would raid each other's campuses and that added to the rivalry, added tension for the administration because we were afraid something really bad would happen. But as long as it is kept within reason, that stuff is healthy for athletics. There was a time when we were discussing for the entire conference to go to the NCAA, back when Belmont, Lipscomb and Birmingham Southern were in the league. That was a great thought, but it didn't materialize. After awhile, a lot of studying has to be done based on your philosophy and what your school needs. We made a decision to stay NAIA.

Q: Is it a possibility for Union to go NCAA in the future, especially when you see Belmont nearly beating Duke in the (NCAA basketball tournament) and Lipscomb being competitive in baseball?
A: We feel like we compete with schools like Belmont and Lipscomb in some sports, like baseball. If I had to give a definitive answer, right now our dormitories are filled, we have things going really great for us, got a new campus. We have to be very careful that what we do is with great planning and organization.

Q: You have had a lot of success as a coach. What is it like to see Mark Campbell continue the success of that women's basketball program?
A: It's because of what I left him (laughing). But I loved to name him coach when I stepped down. As much as we would all like to take credit for that, West Tennessee plays really good girls basketball, and has really good coaches. That has been its history. You have folks like David Russell and so many really good coaches.

Q: Oman Arena is getting old. There has been talk about Union having a plan at some point to build a new gymnasium. If the NAIA is looking for another place to host the women's basketball tournament, would that give you more incentive to build?
A: I don't know. If they told us they would leave if Jackson did not find another arena, then probably a bigger worry for the city would be missing out on other big-time entertainment event. The arena at one time was young and attractive, attracting large crowds. That isn't true anymore. The city will be put in a position sometime in the future to decide how to best provide entertainment, because that's what our games are.

Q: There is no way to sum up 34 years in one interview. Is there is anything you would like to add?
A: We want folks to know that from my standpoint, I feel like I could not have been in a better place. I was where God wanted me and my family to be. I wish that everybody could know what it's like to go to work everyday and really care about the people and have them care about you.

#UNION#


Steven Aldridge
Phone: (731) 661-5027
Sports Information
Fax: (731) 661-5182

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