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COLUMN

Can Blackmon make the Purple 'reign' again?

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Luers coach reportedly to take over Marion program

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 - 5:46 am

If you believe some of the reports – not all, mind you – but some of them, tonight is the night that James Blackmon Sr. will find out if he can indeed go home again.

Word running through Indiana high school basketball circles indicates that the current Bishop Luers High School varsity boys basketball coach will be named to the same position at his alma mater, Marion High School, at tonight's Marion Community Schools board meeting.

Stop me if you've read this story before.

Two years ago Blackmon went through this process and accepted the position with the Giants, only to renege on his pledge and return to Luers a few weeks later. At the time, Blackmon cited family reasons for wanting to remain in Fort Wayne. However, this time, it may just end up being basketball reasons that ultimately make Blackmon long for Luers.

You see, the Marion basketball program that Blackmon starred in – and I grew up watching – isn't today what it was. In fact, the same can be said for the entire North Central Conference, and Blackmon will quickly learn that to be the case.

Thirty years ago, the Marion basketball job would've drawn interest from college coaches, and that is no exaggeration. The factories of east-central Indiana were humming, the NCC schools were overflowing with enrollment, championship banners were being hung, and much like college basketball today, the coaches who stormed the sidelines were God-like entities in their communities.

When Bill Harrell, Sam Alford, Norm Held, Bill Green, Basil Mawbey and George Griffith walked into local stores and restaurants, greetings were exchanged and tabs were taken care of.

Today the most coveted high school jobs aren't in the cities, but around them. If you want to see a job search go crazy, have the boys basketball positions at Carroll or Carmel open. In today's world, the suburban schools are the places with the facilities, funding and enrollments to win championships.

Can Blackmon succeed at Marion like he did with the Knights? Recent history says no. The NCC has struggled to win sectionals of late, let alone state titles.

The Marion basketball program – and the remainder of its league - resembles the downtowns of the cities that they call home: lonely places with troubled faces.

Take Kokomo out of the equation and the NCC hasn't won a regional title in five years. And Marion? The program that once packed Bill Green Arena and had its entire starting five named to the Indiana All-Star squad? The Giants haven't finished better than 2-5 within the league in five seasons.

It's been more Purple Pain than Purple Reign.

Two things happened recently that told me all that I need to know about how far the Giants and its brethren have fallen.

This past season, Marion played Wapahani and lost 65-55.

First of all, the fact that Marion scheduled Wapahani, a small school on the eastern outskirts of Muncie, would've been unfathomable three decades ago, let alone losing the game.

But Marion is not alone in its decrepit state. The NCC recently begged Jay County to join the league, and the Patriots' leadership voted unanimously to accept an offer from the Allen County Athletic Conference instead.

I recall a time when Jay County couldn't have bribed its way in to getting an invite to the NCC, let alone said no to it. For the ACAC to be a more appealing option over what was regarded as the best high school basketball conference in the nation, quite frankly, saddens me. But time does move on.

Blackmon does have the inherent advantage of having three future Indiana All-Stars living under his roof. Throw in his ability to (ahem) attract talent to his program, and perhaps he can restore some of the past pride to his downtrodden hometown.

Though I'm skeptical, I truly hope that he can succeed in this endeavor. From a personal standpoint, I've always enjoyed dealing with Blackmon, as he's always been great to deal with. But more so, I hope that – if only for a moment – he can take me, his city, the Giant faithful and himself back to a place where basketball was the conduit to civic pride throughout the factory towns of this state.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Tom Davis at tdavis@news-sentinel.com.