For the week of June 3 thru June 9, 1998  


Blackman back at Wolverine football helm

Art teacher accepts Wood River job

By Jeff Cordes
Express Staff Writer

The sudden death of Wood River High School sports hero Tom Sluder last week shocked and saddened many people in Blaine and Lincoln counties. The tragic accident May 23 at Anderson Ranch Reservoir prompted Sluder’s former football coach, John Blackman, to make a life-changing decision.

Blackman, varsity football coach at Wood River from 1985-91, told Wood River athletic director Charley Miller last Thursday—on the day of Sluder’s funeral in Hailey—that he wanted another shot at guiding the Wolverine varsity on the gridiron. And Miller gave Blackman the job that had been vacant since Dave Zamora’s resignation in March.

Maturity along with a knowledge of the players and Wood River’s system are assets Blackman brings to the job.

Blackman said, "Tom Sluder and I had a great relationship. When his accident happened, it helped me make the decision. I heard from a lot of the guys who played with Tommy on those teams, and I started to realize that I wouldn’t have had those relationships with those fine young people if I hadn’t been coaching.

"I’ve been around the block. I’m more mature. The first time I took the Wood River job, I was only 24 and had been an assistant coach for only one year. When I stepped down from coaching in 1991 and got divorced, I felt I was just coming into my own as a head coach.

"I took off a couple of years and returned as an assistant coach for Chris Malmgren in 1994. For the past four years I’ve been an assistant football coach at Wood River, and was in charge of the junior varsity that had a 5-5 record last fall."

Blackman, 38, a Bellevue, Wa. native who played football as an offensive lineman for Montana State University on scholarship, has been an art teacher for 14 years in the Blaine County School District. In recent years he has achieved notoriety by designing the distinctive downhill ski helmets worn by Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street.

With a new wife of two years, three growing children (Christian, 13; Kira, 11; and Maia, 9) and another child on the way, he was about to get out of coaching entirely.

"I had officially resigned from football. I wasn’t even going to be an assistant," Blackman said last week.

But the death of Sluder, who rushed for a school-record 1712 yards in three seasons from 1987-89, changed Blackman’s perspective. Blackman discussed the matter with his wife Lisa, a Bellevue Elementary School teacher’s aide, and accepted the job last Thursday.

Athletic director Miller, who had coached with Blackman, breathed a sigh of relief because he was having a little trouble filling the football job.

Blackman said, "I know all the kids. A lot of things we were fighting for six years ago like football in the seventh grade are finally getting into place. The new conference realignment will help. I’m fired up. I know my stuff and can increase the roster right away. We’ll make it fun. I think the kids will enjoy it."

Blackman will oversee weightlifting sessions this summer. He is in the process of developing his coaching staff. It will definitely include Rick Ambrosi, who volunteered in the past but will now be a paid assistant, as well as Chris Cey.

From the perspective of Wood River’s current 13-game losing streak and 10-40 record since Blackman departed, here’s a look back at Blackman’s previous stint:

He was reasonably successful in the win-loss column, by Wood River standards, with a 17-42 record (29%). However, he had a 10-18 homefield record (36%) and was 10-18 against the schools in the new Sawtooth Central Idaho Conference—including 3-2 against Wendell and 3-4 in games against Buhl.

Blackman’s first team posted a 4-4 record and his best team, in 1989, went 5-4 for Wood River’s first winning football season in 14 years.

When Blackman was successful, his teams had punishing running attacks led by hard-driving offensive lines and straight-ahead backs like Lowell Anderson, David Slocum, Sluder and Kyle Rushton. Wood River scored an average 12.7 ppg and yielded 23.7 ppg on defense under Blackman over seven seasons.

Highlights of his previous stint:

Senior QB James Nelson threw for 358 yards and 3 TDs as Wood River snapped a 15-game losing streak with a 42-8 win at Filer in Blackman’s first game in 1985; then Anderson rushed for 894 yards in 1986;

Wood River reeled off three straight home victories and had a 660-246 rushing advantage over its opponents to end a 3-6 season in 1987; the Wolverines posted their first-ever homefield win over Burley 13-8 in 1988; Wood River beat Buhl 28-27 at home in double OT and Sluder rushed for a school-record 1002 yards in 1989;

And, in Blackman’s last season of 1991, Wood River pounded out a school-best 752 yards in total yardage winning at Kimberly 56-28.


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