The Thornton Center gymnasium was empty, except for a videographer and a man dressed in athletic clothes pitching a tennis ball at the wall over and over.
COVID-19 had wreaked havoc on the 2020 spring athletic season, and Jeremiah Blanton was working his tail off, sweat dripping off his face. He was helping make short videos, so that kids could have something to help them polish their baseball skills even if they couldn’t play the game they loved.
Midway through once the camera stopped rolling, Blanton paused both hands resting on his knees and caught his breath.
“Man. I’m a little bit out of shape,” he said.
The pause lasted a second before he was back up and demonstrating another drill, making sure kids had plenty of ways to practice.
Fast forward just about a year and Blanton sits in his office at Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation, fielding texts and phone calls by the minute. Mother Nature and Rome’s notoriously fickle rivers continue to wreak havoc with the spring baseball schedule. Blanton takes it in stride, because unlike last year, spring baseball is playing at least when it’s not raining and the fields aren’t flooded.
Blanton, who started playing sports at the recreation level in Rome before starring at Coosa High and then Shorter, has been named the new Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Sports Manager.
“I don’t think we could have found a better person or candidate than JB,” RFPRA Director Todd Wofford says, using the nickname that parks and recreation staffers call Blanton. “He grew up in our programs and has worked for us for about 15 years. One of the best things about him is that you can see how much he cares about the kids and the programs.”
Growing up, Blanton played on local fields starting with t-ball when he was seven.
“I played all the baseball age groups starting when I was seven. I played baseball, football and basketball,” Blanton says.
When asked for some of his favorite moments about growing up and playing sports in Rome, a big smile crosses his face.
“I remember we won the Santa Bowl when I played Mites (football). We dedicated that season to a classmate that passed away. That was really special,” he says.
He also mentions a trip to Grenada, Mississippi for the world series and being a part of an all-star basketball team that captured a state title when he was 11 or 12.
“That basketball team was loaded with a lot of great players,” he says. “It’s funny because back when I was playing we were Georgia Craft, Nations Bank or Garden Lakes Supermarket teams, because they sponsored us.”
Blanton’s athletic days didn’t end at the recreation level. At Coosa High School, Blanton starred as a three-sport athlete, earning All-Area recognition in both football and baseball as a senior. He played those sports as well as basketball all four years for the Eagles.
Blanton then took his talents to Shorter where he played baseball all four years.
“In 1998, we were the conference champions and went to regionals,” Blanton says. He has another cool memory from his Shorter days that no one else can claim.
“My senior year at Shorter in our first game we played against Lee University,” Blanton says. “In my first at bat, I hit a home run. That was the first home run hit at the new Ledbetter Complex.”
After some time working in schools and even coaching high school sports, Blanton moved to the recreation department and began work in the maintenance division in 2006. He served in various roles in that department until Dec. 2019 when he moved to the sports side and became the assistant sports manager.
Although Blanton enjoyed keeping the parks and fields looking great, he says he felt a calling to get back to where it all started for him.
“I felt like I had a lot to offer on the sports side. I’ve always been a firm believer that we can’t make this go without the parks guys. I know how hard those guys have to work to get the fields and parks ready every day,” he says.
Blanton now moves into the sports manager role vacated by Rick Haase, who recently retired after more than 35 years. He’s focused on baseball and adult sports and making sure more kids get a chance to be a part of the various parks and recreation programs.
“I feel like sports give kids the opportunity to develop and grow. It’s not about the wins and losses at this age. It’s about developing kids and being taught the right way,” Blanton says. “We hope to be able to come out with some more videos and have more free clinics. We want to be able to get into the schools and maybe even take a day or so and teach kids how to shoot a basketball or hit a baseball.”
Like many people, the stay at home order around COVID-19 last spring frustrated Blanton. Not because he didn’t want people to be safe, but because he hated kids not being able to have a spring sports season.
Remember the earlier note about Blanton working hard for the videos. All in all, Blanton starred in roughly 15 short videos for the series, bringing a level of enthusiasm and energy that can be seen anytime he’s around sports.
It’s that same enthusiasm and energy that permeates his words and actions as he talks about his new job. Especially when asked what he would say to parents or kids that might be hesitant to sign up for basketball, baseball, softball, football or another sport.
“I would definitely say come out and try it. If it’s not for you, you don’t have to do it again,” Blanton says. “I feel like most kids if they try it, they will enjoy it. I think a lot of kids are nervous especially when they are younger. Most of them when they get into it and get going will love it.”
Blanton also mentions the free clinics parks and recreation offers throughout the year in several sports as a great way to introduce some kids to the sport.
Sports isn’t just about youth either. Parks and recreation continues to try to restart a dormant adult sports program. Adult basketball is a few games into its season, and adult softball is currently registering. Getting those programs up and running is something Blanton really wants to see happen.
“What we really need for adult sports is for people to come in and register. We have seven teams in adult basketball and everything is going good so far. We’re aiming to do the same with adult softball,” he says. “I know a lot of people are hesitant to register, because we’ve talked about it in the past and haven’t been able to do it. We are doing it now, but we can’t have a league if we don’t have teams.”
Blanton’s phone lights up again and his eyes dart over to read the text. The new job comes with a lot of questions, emails, phone calls, texts and more, but he doesn’t want that to dissuade anyone from reaching out.
“I do want people to know I’ll listen to them, and I’ll talk to them. They may not always like the end results, but this is a process and we want the kids and the parents to have a good experience,” he says. “If there is anything I can do for somebody, I’m always glad to help. And if I don’t know the answer to the question, I’ll do my best to find the answer.”