Blakeslee takes over Indian program
Bob Ford/TIMES NEWS Lehighton's Jim Blakeslee talks to his track team during a recent practice. The longtime assistant has taken on the job of head track coach.
Jim Blakeslee has been in this position before.
Well, not this position.
Blakeslee, who is taking over the Lehighton track and field program this season, was the school's head cross county coach for nearly 10 years after taking over in 1985 and will be entering his 29th year overall as a coach.
While the experience is undeniable, the gaps in his head coaching tenures span nearly two decades, something that had Blakeslee, a guidance counselor at the Shull-David and Mahoning Elementary Schools, wondering if he'd ever be in such a position again.
"I never really thought I'd have the opportunity again. I always thought I'd be an assistant," he said. "But the chance came up with coach (Jake) Marushak leaving for another teaching assignment. I thought, 'To keep things going, and ease the transition for a lot of the kids on the team, now would be a good time.'
"I deliberated for a short period of time. I actually went to (assistant) coach Bill Brong, who has the most years and asked if he would be willing to take the job, but he wasn't interested. And that was when I realized that I was going to do it."
Much like his other endeavors, Blakeslee is more than willing to devote himself to the position and the program, though he admits there are more responsibilities that come with his new role.
"When I coached the cross country team, I only had to worry about 15 kids. But now I'm dealing with 70," Blakeslee said. "It's a lot more paperwork and action, so I have to be much more organized. But it's nice to have all of my assistant coaches, because they are working with the individual groups and training the kids.
"It's nice for me to return to the distance kids and have the opportunity to work with different groups on a regular basis. But it's still going to be a challenge because I'm really going to have to think some things through."
While being an assistant with the team for many years will help Blakeslee in terms of his familiarity with the kids, that time will also help him get acclimated to some of his other duties.
"I've done a lot of integral parts of what a head coach needs to do over the years ...," said Blakeslee. "I've done all of these different tasks, I've just never done them all together."
Blakeslee is quick to point out that he won't be doing it alone.
"It's really nice to have Kyle Spotts, because he's such a breath of fresh air," Blakeslee said of the Lehighton athletic director. "He's organized; he gets back to you; he makes sure you have everything you need.
"It's really a treat to work with someone like that. He's the Director of Student Services and Planning, so that's what his thing is."
Though his predecessor won't be able to help him physically, Blakeslee will be able to use some of what was left behind to keep the program moving forward.
"I have to compliment coach Marushak because he had a lot of things organized," said Blakeslee. "I've been able to kind of take from that and use the experience I have from working with different head coaches and what they required, to formulate what I want to do.
"And when it comes to day-to-day activities, I'm lucky to have a good group of people to help plan what we're going to do."
Blakeslee certainly wants to see results on the track, but he's also concerned with how his team is doing in the classroom.
"I've changed my outlook and I try to look at the athlete as a whole now," he said. "I try to look at how they're doing academically; if they're a senior, I want to know what they're going to do after they graduate; I talk to kids about their careers; I check their grades.
"When you're in the head coach area, kids talk to you more and you have more responsibility than if you're just an assistant. But that's something I look forward to."
With a holistic approach and a wealth of experience to lean on, the program is in good hands with Blakeslee, regardless of his title.