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Blackburn steps down as head of BE athletics

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Former hoops coach served as athletic director the past seven years

By Mike Farner

 MOUNT WASHINGTON – There is never enough time to be a part-time athletic director.

That is the rule that Bullitt East athletic director Bob Blackburn learned after being on the job for only a short time. Still, over the past seven years, Blackburn has enjoyed running the Charger athletic program as it continues and grow and thrive.

At the end of this month, Blackburn will step down from his second job as he will retire completely from the Bullitt County school system after 32 years.

Blackburn will be replaced by Troy Barr on July 1. It was Barr who replaced Blackburn as the school’s boys’ basketball coach in 2002. Barr also served as Blackburn’s assistant athletic director for seven years.

Ashley Bowman as been the administrative assistant for athletics all seven years that Blackburn ran the department.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Blackburn said of a job that is often conducted in the shadows. “We’ve had a lot of good kids and great coaches. You look across the whole gambit and we have a lot of kids at the next level (college). We have a lot of students here who take part in sports.”

Blackburn had a busy schedule when he was a teacher and basketball coach. The hours in a day seemed to shorten even more when he took on the athletic director role.

“Most definitely, it is more demanding,” Blackburn said, finding a moment to sit down between two college signings in the school’s Media Center during the last week of the school year. “Being a full-time teacher and full-time AD is not for the faint of heart. It’s a young man’s game.

“I’d say the time constraints (are the toughest part of the job),” he added. “There is just not enough time in the day or time in a week to do all I want to do. You have to learn to prioritize your time. Education has to come first.”

Blackburn’s coaching and teaching career started in Bullitt County in 1980 when he graduated from Eastern Kentucky University and took a job at North Bullitt. In the fall of 1984, he moved over to Bullitt East and was an assistant football coach as well as an assistant to David Shelburne for basketball.

At the start of the 1988-89 school year, Blackburn moved over a seat and became the head coach of the Charger basketball program, a job that he held until the 2001-02 school year. In the years between being the basketball coach and becoming AD, Blackburn even spent a few years running the girls’ cross-country program as well as coaching girls’ golf for a year. 

Blackburn took the reigns of a strong athletic program and it just got better with him at the helm. Over the past seven years, the school has added the full-time sports of swimming, bowling, wrestling and archery as well as solidifying a girl’s golf program that was more year-to-year than full-time.

The days of athletic directors overseeing football, basketball, baseball and track are long gone. This past school year, Bullitt East sponsored a team for every sport conducted by the Kentucky High School Athletic Association except for fishing. That means 22 teams in 14 sports along with cheerleading.

With the 55-year old Blackburn at the helm, Bullitt East has won countless district titles as well as regional crowns in football, boys’ basketball, baseball, softball and archery. Both of the cross-country programs have had top four finishes in the state meet.

Those results mean that good coaches are being hired.

“Really, when I took the job I envisioned being a resource to the coaches,” Blackburn pointed out. “It really hasn’t worked out that way with all the things that need to be done behind the scenes.”

Blackburn not only oversaw a great growth in the sports activities at the school, but he also saw the school grow dramatically. When he arrived the school had only 600 students and was the smallest of the three Bullitt County high schools. Now there are over 1,350 students and it is the largest of the local high schools.

The growth of the school is both good and bad.

“It was a blast back when it was a smaller school,” Blackburn admitted. “It’s fun now, but back then everybody knew everybody. I don’t know everybody now and I see students I don’t recognize now everyday.”

The first job for athletic directors now is finding the funding to contact so many sports.

“There is never enough money,” Blackburn said of something that is true at every high school. “We’ve been fortunate with the support of our community. We have areas that need to be improved starting with the track.”

Blackburn quickly learned that the little things make big things possible when running an athletic program.

“Take care of your gate workers,” he said with a smile. “That’s a thankless job. Appreciate the chain crew. Show your appreciation to the people that volunteer and help out. They don’t always get credit. You have to know your community.” 

Blackburn hasn’t exactly decided what he will do after retiring. He and his wife Cathy, who also did some coaching when they both taught at North Bullitt, have two children. Allison is a CPA in Indianapolis and Blake is a social media marketer in Louisville.

“I hope I’ll be productive,” he said. “I want to do something, but I don’t have anything lined up. I’ll take a little time off. I have a good feeling I’ll be on the lake or the beach that day (when the new school year starts in August).”