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Mourners gather to honor Big Sandy coach

By Richard Yeakley
June 8, 2015 at 11:34 p.m.

Family members left to right seated-Easton Blackstone, Haley Blackstone, Teesha Blackstone, Emma Blackstone, and Brock Blackstone and  friends and community people gather for a candlelight vigil for Big Sandy ISD baseball coach Jeff Blackstone Monday, June 8, 2015, at the baseball field in Big Sandy. (Kevin Green/News-Journal Photo)

BIG SANDY — From Harmony to Kilgore and Longview to Big Sandy, Jeff Blackstone made an impact in the communities he served.

"He had a positive impact. ... It doesn't matter where it was. He impacted lives positively," Big Sandy ISD Superintendent Scott Beene said.

The school leader spoke Monday night as about 250 people, many from the Big Sandy community, gathered to say goodbye to the longtime coach during a candlelight vigil on the school district's baseball field.

Blackstone, 39, was killed Saturday after he was in a two-vehicle wreck on Texas 155.

"Jeff Blackstone loved kids. He loved baseball, and he gave every ounce of his effort every day to this sport," Beene said. "In Big Sandy, he gave every ounce of his effort to our kids. You can't replace that."

Blackstone, who is survived by his wife and four children, could claim many successes as a coach.

But it was his work off the field that was remembered Monday night.

"I work at Longview schools, food service, and Jeff used to work at our schools as assistant principal," Diane Venson said. "He was a good person. We treated him good, and he took care of us."

Blackstone's team, whose members have been been inseparable since they learned of the fatal crash Saturday, lit the community members' candles and led those gathered in the school song.

"This field is because of him. These kids have an awesome place to play. They had a lot of respect for him, and he respected them as well," Shirlene Rowe said.

"His love — it showed, his love for the game and his kids, it definitely showed on and off the field," said Billie Smeltzer, a second member of the "cheering grandmas" fan section.

Athletic Director Larry Minter praised his colleague, telling Blackstone's parents that he expressed his faith in God days before the wreck and telling each of Blackstone's children how often their father bragged about them.

"He was a great employee — a great human being. He loved kids; he loved baseball. He wanted Big Sandy to have a passion for the game the way he did. We are not there yet, but he put us in the right direction," he said.

Heading into the 2014-15 season, Blackstone had a career record of 163-82. As a head coach at Harmony ISD, he led his team to the state championships.

Blackstone was an assistant football coach and head baseball coach, as well as a physical education and economics teacher at Big Sandy High School.

He graduated from Harmony High School in 1994. He later coached and taught at Harmony, from 2001-05.

"He makes a tremendous impact on the people that he meets. He had a lot of charisma and charm, and he got people to believe in him. He had all the qualities that it takes to be a great coach," said Tim Russell, the athletic director for Harmony ISD who first hired Blackstone.

After leaving Harmony ISD, Blackstone went to Kilgore ISD, where he was named head baseball coach at Kilgore High School. He served in that role from 2006-10 before moving on to Forest Park Middle School in Longview ISD. He left Longview ISD in 2012 to take the position in Big Sandy.

At the vigil, his daughter Haley Blackstone exhorted the team to play ball and to remember her father.

"Every time you play, think of my dad, because he loved y'all so much," she said.



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