Vance Blade returned to his hometown a few weeks ago to deliver the commencement address to the Eminence High School class of 2014. For Blade it was a full circle moment.
Blade grew up in Eminence in the 1970’s and was a key figure in arguably the best run of basketball teams in school history.
Blade played for the Warriors’ varsity team for five years, culminating in his senior season when he was named All-District for the fourth consecutive year, All-Regional tournament for the second straight year and Honorable Mention All-State for the third year in a row.
During Blade’s final three seasons, the team compiled a 57-24 record and made it to the Eighth Region semifinals twice. Blade averaged a double-double in points and rebounding in all four of his seasons as a starter. Blade’s senior season was the best with a 20.8 scoring average and 17.0 rebounding average.
Blade was somewhat overshadowed by a talented junior on that team, Mont Sleets, who had a higher scoring average and who was the second leading rebounder on the team despite being only 5’-10” tall. Sleets went on to play at Murray State and had one of the most memorable individual performances in Eighth Region tournament history against Grant County in his senior season. But Blade was the common factor for most of the Warriors’ great run of the 1970’s.
Blade, however, was not asked to be the commencement speaker because of his athletic prowess. Blade used his court skills to go from a poor kid in a single parent family to a college graduate and then on to a successful career with the Kroger Company.
In a 1978 issue of the Henry County Local that announced his selection to the All-Eighth Region basketball team, EHS principal Dalton Oak said of Blade:
“Of all the children I have had the opportunity of working with in my career, Vance is one of the best young people I have ever known. He is a fine athlete and person, assuming the responsibility of trying to set an example for his fellow students.”
After graduating from Eminence Blade signed to play at Berea College.
He finished his career at Berea with 1198 points, which is 21st all-time in the Mountaineer’s history and 881 rebounds which is fifth best in school history.
While at Berea, Blade met his future wife Vivian. Together the couple started a family that includes daughter Alivia, 22, and Percy, 20.
Blade started as a management trainee with Kroger in 1983 and has held several positions with the company over the years. Today Blade is the safety manager for the company’s Mid-South Division.
Blade has been a Trustee of Berea College since 2007. He served on the board as an alumni trustee from 1998 to 2006. He was also a member of the Alumni Council from 1988 to 1993 and again from 2000 to 2006.
Blade has stayed in excellent shape over the years by exercising regularly. He looks as if he could still hold his own on the basketball court, but he hasn’t played competitively since leaving Berea.
He coached his kids’ church teams when they were young and then when his son got older and began to show promise, he coached his AAU team.
Percy played on some very good teams at Eastern High school before walking on at Western Kentucky University for a year and a half.
“Percy decided to transfer last year and enrolled at Trevecca Nazarene College, an NCAA Division II school in Nashville in December,” Blade said. “Alivia is a senior at U of L.”
Blade’s wife, Vivian is president and CEO of Experts in Growth Leadership Consulting, chairperson for the Louisville Chapter of the National Speakers Association as well being the secretary of the Board of Directors for the Girls Scouts of Kentuckiana.
For Blade, basketball was not only a stepping-stone to college and later success with Kroger, but also a way of escaping. He lived in a single-parent household where he and his siblings had to help make ends meet.
“My father died when we were young and I had to work from the time I was nine years old,” Blade said. “I can truly tell you that basketball was a relief valve for me. It took me away from the worries of life. I enjoyed it so much that it motivated me to go on to the next level.”
Blade, the grandson of the late George and Mamie Blade, credits his family with giving him the foundation he needed to suceed.
“My mother Sarah Blade certainly played a huge role in making sure I stayed on the right course,” Blade said. “Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hayden also played an important part in my upbringing.”
But there were also those at the school that influenced Blade.
“Jim Willhite and J. T. Stinson were also important to me. Not only was Jim my coach but he also taught history, which was one of my favorite subjects. Mr. Stinson taught business classes which were also among my favorite classes and is what I majored in, so he had a tremendous impact on my future.
“Andy Johnson the assistant principal, Don Van Meter and principal Dalton Oak were also big influences and good people who helped me stay on point and doing the things you need to do not only on the court but in the classroom.”
Blade also talked about his older brother, Vincent, who died of lung cancer in 1992,
“I was really fortunate to play for two years with Vincent,” Blade said. “We were referred to as the ‘double-edged Blade’. He and I worked very hard on increasing our strength and jumping ability. We used to do toe raises with a lot of weight on our back and do other strength and conditioning together during the summer. Coach Willhite was really one of the first around to introduce a good strength program into the basketball team.
“I remember that Coach Willhite told us once that if we won a game in the Henry County Invitational Tournament he would get us a universal weight machine,” Blade added with a chuckle. “We beat Henry County in the first round and, sure enough, he got us the weight machine.”
Willhite, who was known as a tough taskmaster when he coached the Warriors, had high praise for Blade.
“He was outstanding both as a player and a student,” Willhite said. “His character was above reproach. He was and still is an outstanding person and that is why he has been successful. I have a great amount of respect for him.”