5/17/2017 10:24:00 AM A winner in more ways than one Longtime Jackson County football coach, Paul Blankenship, dies at 67
The 1998 football season at Jackson High School was special for the father/son duo of Assistant Coach Paul Blankenship (standing) and senior running back/linebacker Jay Blankenship (kneeling). The Ironmen exceeded expectations that season by finishing 9-1, qualifying for the playoffs and winning another Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship. Blankenship died this past Sunday at the age of 67.
Paul and Diane Blankenship (pictured) are originally from West Virginia, but wound up spending their professional lives in Jackson County in the educational field. The fact that the Wellston City Schools were able to provide his wife with a teaching position back in 1979, resulted in Mr. Blankenship deciding to accept a teaching/coaching position there, rather than at Middletown.
A man who has the distinction of serving as a football coach at all three Jackson County high schools while scoring major respect points at each stop along the way has died.
Paul Blankenship, 67, died Sunday morning, May 14, at his Jackson area home after fighting a long battle with cancer. His high standing, especially in the local coaching fraternity, was evidenced when many of his former coaches paid a final visit to his bedside last Thursday evening as it was evident his days were numbered.
Blankenship's local football coaching career began in 1979 when he came to Wellston from South Point High School to serve as head coach of the Golden Rockets and ended in 2008 after he had come out of retirement to serve several years as an assistant coach for the Oak Hill Oaks. That 30-year period of coaching produced many more victories than defeats, more good times than bad, and resulted in the forging of many lasting friendships with players, coaches, parents and other community members.
Blankenship, along with his good friend and coaching colleague, Greg Phillips, may be the only two men in Jackson County's athletic history, to serve as a football coach at all three county high schools: Wellston, Jackson and Oak Hill. While that's notable local sports history, what's more important is what Blankenship did during those stops around the county and how his presence positively affected the football programs, influenced his fellow coaches, and guided the many players he coached. He also was a teacher and administrator during most of this same period.
"Paul was a great friend, mentor and teacher to many people, teachers, coaches, and students," said Oak Hill High School Principal Randy Layton, who coached with Blankenship at Jackson High School. "I have read so many positive comments on social media that shows the amount of people he has touched or made a difference in their lives."
Former Jackson High School assistant football coach and current Jackson Broadcasting Co. sports broadcaster Dan Morrow has coached against Blankenship, then in Morrow's media role, watched him prowl the sidelines as a coach and devise strategy and tactics from the pressbox.
"I feel very lucky to say I've known Paul, his wife Diane and their wonderful family since 1979," Morrow remarked. "I've coached against Paul, broadcast many games he was associated with, and watched him do an outstanding job at Jackson Middle School as an administrator. Paul and his family have touched so many lives in Jackson County and we are better for it. Thank you, Paul, for being a friend; you will be missed."
By birth, Blankenship was a Mountaineer and not a Buckeye.
He was born in West Virginia, and graduated from Wayne High School where he was an All-State linebacker and later earned college degrees from Glenville State College and Marshall University. His first teaching/coaching job was back home at Wayne High School, but in 1975, he made a fateful professional crossing of the Ohio River to accept a teaching/coaching job at South Point High School in Lawrence County, Ohio, along with his lifelong friend and coaching assistant, Gary Hall.
Blankenship and Hall joined the staff of Mike Jupin and together they made something special happen, achieving a 10-0 record in 1976 and winning 23 games in a row at one point. As a top young assistant in a winning program, Blankenship was a hot commodity and in the summer of 1979, he had the choice of two head-coaching jobs -- one at Middletown High School (where future All-Pro Cris Carter was playing) and the other at Wellston High School. Blankenship chose Wellston because the school board also gave his wife, Diane, a teaching position.
Blankenship was head coach at Wellston for four years before he stepped down and switched sports, becoming the girls' volleyball coach at WHS for many years.
When it appeared there would be no football team at Wellston in 1991 after a levy was defeated the year before, and a leading booster stepped up just months before the season and provided the necessary funding, Blankenship also stepped up in this time of adversity and was willing to take back the head-coaching reins. Furthermore, he was able to convince Greg Phillips to rejoin his staff after he had left the program a year earlier, after the levy failed.
Blankenship remained as head coach through the 1994 season before stepping down and deciding to take a coaching job at rival Jackson under head coach Jim Reynolds. Initially, Blankenship was a freshman coach at Jackson with another longtime coaching colleague, Dennis Reinhart, and both contributed to a run of sustained football glory for the Ironmen with both championships and playoff appearances occurring in succession.
"Paul and I coached against each other, but each time, it was a very respectful situation," Reynolds recalled. "He was a hard worker and he cared about the kids. He always worked hard and he prepared hard."
One of the most memorable moments in the 1996 season came when Blankenship's son, Jay, a sophomore linebacker for the Ironmen, ran back a fumble recovery for a touchdown to give JHS a 7-0 halftime lead in a regional final playoff game against state powerhouse Columbus DeSales. The Ironmen lost that game, but the memory of that touchdown is a scrapbook play for the ages for Ironmen fans.
Reynolds retired after the 1997 season and Layton was elevated to the Ironmen's head coach in 1998 after serving as defensive coordinator. Blankenship had plenty of experience and had a reputation as being something of an offensive guru and Layton tapped him to be his offensive coordinator and play-caller. That also happened to be Jay's senior season and with the loss of the players from two very talented classes from the 1996 and 1997 teams, and with a rookie head coach at the helm, many Jackson fans were not expecting the same heightened level of success (20-3 over two years) from the rebuilt 1998 team. The Ironmen played with something of a chip on their shoulder pads that year and finished with a 9-1 regular-season record and yet another Southeastern Ohio Athletic League championship.
Meanwhile, the brain trust of the Jackson City School District also saw Blankenship's value as an administrator. He became the assistant principal at Jackson Middle School in 1996 and became the middle school principal in 2001. The same interpersonal skills and work ethic that served him so well in coaching also made him an effective and respected school administrator and leader.
In spite of the extra demands, he remained as a member of the JHS football staff until his retirement from the school district in 2006. During this time, he was able to coach once again with Phillips, who was a member of the Jackson staff for three years.
When Phillips got the head-coaching job at Oak Hill in 2007, Blankenship came out of retirement to coach again and reunited with Phillips and Reinhart to help coach the Oaks for a memorable three-year stint, which resulted in two playoff appearances and a perfect 10-0 regular-season mark in 2009.
"This was the thing about Paul -- he was like the riverboat gambler," Phillips assessed. "He was not afraid to take chances with his calls and he was always willing to go out on a limb to win a game."
While Phillips and Layton know firsthand about Blankenship the coach, they both were even more impressed with Blankenship the man and felt that he was just a good person to be around and have as either a leader or as a foot soldier. He knew his stuff, but just as importantly, related to people very well.
"He always had a good relationship with his players," Phillips noted.
Layton concluded, "Everyone that knows Paul has a story they can tell, he brought so many smiles, laughs and good times to all he was involved with. Paul always knew what to say and when to say it. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to have worked, coached and learned from such a great man."
The Mass of Christian Burial was conducted for Blankenship this morning (Wednesday, May 17) at the Holy Trinity Catholic Church with burial following in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. His family asks that those who wish to honor Paul's memory may make donations to the Wellston City Schools Track Fund, and the JHS Alumni Scholarship Fund.
Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Article comment by:
Thank You Pete - I knew you would be capable of effectively telling Paul's story - I so admire what he and Diane created in their shared life and his prowess in the sporting arena was stellar.