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Blackburn leaving Eminence

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By Tommie Kendall

After seven seasons as the head man for the Eminence High School boys’ basketball team, filled with some of the best basketball squads the school has produced in recent memory, Keith Blackburn has decided to step down as Eminence’s coach. His decision to back away from the program stemmed from off-court issues that date back the previous three seasons, he said. On June 3, he had a closed-door meeting with Steve Frommeyer, who serves multiple positions as Eminence’s principal, football coach and track coach, along with Superintendent Don Aldridge to discuss some of those issues. Prior to the meeting, Blackburn planned to return for another season. But afterwards, he changed his mind and officially sent in his letter of resignation June 30. “Basically, leaving Eminence was not a decision I wanted to make,” Blackburn said. “Under the circumstances, though, I was pretty much forced to resign from Eminence. For the past few years, it seemed that my working conditions had been made somewhat uncomfortable. It’s disappointing. I felt like each and everyone of the players at Eminence were my sons. I have received 100 or more phone calls from former players, players, parents and everyone in the community expressing much sympathy. But I felt like it was a decision I had to make.” A few of the issues Blackburn had at Eminence, he said, were accusations that he was “stealing” players from other programs at the school, unfair coaching conditions and disagreements with Frommeyer. There were also other off-court problems he did not site, but none dealing with the actual players or the basketball program itself. “Usually when you have a situation where you disagree with another coach, you go to the principal of the school to get to the bottom of the truth,” Blackburn said. “But in this situation, the principal is the coach. Then you have to ask yourself if you’re talking to the principal or the coach. It’s just a very tough and awkward situation to be in. “Coaching in this day and age, in general, at any level is tough,” he added. “You have much pressure from the outside and inside, and to constantly be cornered and questioned about things that are not true or not relevant took my focus off of being a good coach. It just built up and built up until I had to resign.” Blackburn called the June 3 meeting to hopefully work things out, but reversed his decision when he was told that he will “have the opportunity to coach another season under X, Y and Z circumstances,” he said. Since he was not certain he would have his coaching position a year later, and did not want to conform to the new set of guidelines, he decided it was in his best interest to take an opportunity that was put in front of him to work at South Oldham High School. Despite the decision to separate from Eminence, he took the basketball team to camp June 11. After a long consideration with a lot of stress, he said, he felt like South Oldham would be the best place for him. South Oldham had contacted Blackburn about a possible teaching position before the June 3 meeting, but Blackburn turned them away. After the meeting, though, he called South Oldham back and told them he was interested in coming in and talking more about the position. “I could tell things were not going to change,” Blackburn said. “Nobody wants to work under those conditions, so I thought it was a decision I had to make that was my best interest.” Frommeyer did not want to comment on the situation, except to say he “wishes Blackburn well and thinks he will do very well at his new job.” Blackburn will teach at South Oldham, but is unsure if he will jump back into coaching right away. South Oldham’s head coach, Steve Simpson, has contacted Blackburn about possibly taking over the freshman program and/or becoming an assistant coach. Right now, Blackburn, who already lives in Oldham County, is debating between taking a coaching position or going back to school to get his administrative degree while teaching. Blackburn will be going from a school of 130 students to a school of roughly 1,200, with more teachers at South Oldham than the number of students at Eminence. “First of all, it’s an honor in itself to be considered and hired at a school like South Oldham,” Blackburn said. “They’re ranked one of the top in the state, and it was great to know that they felt like I was the type of person to have in their school system. Now, there are a lot of opportunities before me. I felt like this was a golden opportunity I couldn’t pass up.” While coaching at Eminence, Blackburn compiled a 68-102 record during a seven-year span that included two winning records. He led the Warriors to their first winning season in 16 years in 2005, their first back-to-back winning seasons in 20 years in 2006 and to the championship game of the 8th Region All “A” Classic. They went 10-14 during Blackburn’s first season in 2002, then followed with 8-17, 12-15, 14-12, 14-13, 8-18 and 2-13 marks. They lost in the opening round of the 30th District tournament each year, losing to Shelby County four times, Anderson County twice and Henry County once. “He knew his stuff, that’s for sure,” said Ethan Keiser, who graduated from EHS last spring and played basketball for Blackburn for six years, including two years at the middle school level. “I think it’s disappointing to see him leave but I can’t blame him. When you have an opportunity at another place you have to take it. He has his heart in Eminence though, so I’m sad to see him leave.” To go along with his coaching days, Blackburn also was one of the most recognizable players to run up and down the court at Eminence, where he was a record-setting forward from 1989-1993. He started playing varsity in the eighth grade, and capped off his high school career as the school’s all-time leader in points (3,016) and rebounds (1,516). He was named to the All-North Central Kentucky Conference Team five years, the All-District Team five years, the All-Region Team four years, was 8th Region Player of the Year runner-up behind Shelby County’s Matt Simons, was named All-State Honorable Mention twice, All-State Second Team once and played in Las Vegas and Los Angeles with the Kentucky Junior All Stars. After high school, he received a four-year scholarship to play basketball for Indiana University Southeast, where he was the sixth man as a freshman and started every game during his final three seasons. He finished his record-setting career as top 10 at IUS in both scoring (1,201) and rebounding (501), broke the school mark with a perfect 11-for-11 field goals in one game and was named to the All-Conference Team. He came back to Eminence nine years ago as a teacher and middle school coach, and started coaching at the varsity level two years later. “I loved the game of basketball. Growing up attending Eminence, my goal was always to come back to Eminence and give back to the community,” Blackburn said. “I will miss the kids at Eminence — the ones I coached and the ones I taught. Several have already contacted me and I assured them that if they need anything from me I’m still in reach because I’m definitely not leaving because of them.” Blackburn will not be on the sideline when the team takes to the court again, but you might find him in the stands — with popcorn, a coke and a cheering hand, he said. “I plan to still go back and watch some games. Only this time I’ll be paying my gate admission and find myself a seat in the stands. Personally, I felt like I’ve accomplished as much as I could at Eminence.” Replacing Blackburn will be former Eminence student Chris Nethery, who attended Eminence during the mid-1990s and has been a teacher and assistant basketball coach at Gallatin County the last few years. He will also teach Special Education at EHS. “Chris is an excellent teacher and he’s been an excellent assistant, ready to become a head coach,” Frommeyer said of the replacement. “He’s just a great guy. He has ties to the community and we feel very fortunate to get him.” As for Blackburn, when school starts back again he’ll be roaming unfamiliar hallways, and possibly coaching on unfamiliar sidelines. “My original plan was to retire from Eminence, but of course with any position you just never know,” Blackburn said. “I leave Eminence with a heavy heart, but I also leave Eminence proud of what I was able to accomplish,” he added. “Nobody can take away from all my accomplishments as a player and as a coach at Eminence High School. I leave Eminence knowing that I made a difference. It’s just time to move on.” E-mail us about this story at sports@hclocal.com.