Story by Union University (Tenn.)
JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 1, 2017 – Catherine Kwasigroh’s most vivid memory of David Blackstock came during her freshman year on the Union University (Tenn.) Lady Bulldogs basketball team. Kwasigroh, Union’s vice president for institutional advancement, said the players never knew what Blackstock had in store for them when he came to practice. On one particular day, he walked into practice carrying a large football pad.
Blackstock wanted the women to drive down the baseline, stop under the basket, jump backwards and shoot, while he stood behind them and knocked them with the pad. On Kwasigroh’s turn, she followed the instructions. After shooting the ball, she heard her teammates laughing, and she turned around to find Blackstock flat on his back with the pad on top of him.
“We’re done,” Blackstock said as he got back to his feet, and he never brought the football pad out to practice again.
Blackstock, Union’s (Tenn.) athletic director for 34 years and women’s basketball coach for 18 years, died Nov. 1 at age 75 after a lengthy illness.
“I would not have been at Union if not for Coach Blackstock,” Kwasigroh said. “He was a coach who you wanted to play for, because he wanted to win. And yet at the same time, he instilled a family atmosphere on the team and taught his players important lessons about discipline, family and caring for one another.”
Pam Harrison, Union’s assistant athletic director for compliance and senior woman administrator, spent four years playing for Blackstock during her Lady Bulldog basketball career. He was a tough coach, Harrison said, with a passion for winning.
She remembers when he wasn’t pleased with their defense during a game, the next practice he would make the players stand holding towels above their heads until their arms ached – an effort to get them to keep their hands up on defense.
“Coach Blackstock’s passion for winning was not, however, just about the game,” Harrison said. “He wanted his athletes to be successful in all their endeavors. The true impact of David Blackstock’s legacy will never be known, but I’m certain Coach’s treasures in heaven are greater than any victory on earth.”
A native of Jackson, Blackstock graduated from Union in 1964 with a degree in health and physical education. He played baseball for the Bulldogs for four years. He became Union’s athletic director in 1973 after completing his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. He also holds a Master of Education degree from the University of Memphis.
Starting in 1981, Blackstock spent 18 seasons at the helm of the women’s basketball program at Union, compiling a 509-89 overall record. He earned his 500th career victory during the 1998-99 season and led the Lady Bulldogs to the 1998 NAIA Women’s Basketball National Championship.
His tenure as head coach of the women’s basketball team included 12 conference championships, five district crowns and 10 national tournament appearances in his final 12 years.
“As you look back through life you realize that God specifically put people in your path that totally change your trajectory,” said Mark Campbell, the Lady Bulldogs basketball coach who succeeded Blackstock. “Coach Blackstock and his work here at Union is one of those people that God used to transform my family.”
Campbell said he is grateful for the opportunity Blackstock gave him to coach at Union and for the way he made the coaching transition a smooth one.
“His legacy has and will impact my life and the lives of my children,” Campbell said. “What is the most impressive thing to me is that he genuinely loved people, remained humble and served the Lord in this community all his life.”
Blackstock took over the baseball program in 1975 where he, along with co-head coach Linn Stranak, guided the team to a third-place finish in the 1983 NAIA World Series, the only season Union participated in the event.
In the two seasons he coached the women’s softball team, from 2006-2007, the team compiled a 77-36 record with one NAIA Region XI tournament appearance.
Blackstock was enshrined in the NAIA Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the Madison County Sports Hall of Fame and the Union University Sports Hall of Fame. After retiring as athletic director in 2008, Blackstock stayed on at Union in a part-time capacity in institutional advancement while assisting in coaching the softball team.
Known around campus for years simply as “Coach,” Blackstock served Union for more than 41 years. The court of Fred DeLay Gymnasium was named for him in 2010.
“David Blackstock is among the brightest stars in the constellation known as Union University,” Union President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver said. “He was a coach, teacher, mentor, leader, father and friend to thousands. Those thousands have influenced hundreds of thousands of others, and that legacy will continue to expand until Christ returns.
“Union, as an institution, was shaped by Coach Blackstock,” Oliver continued. “Even as we grieve his passing, our hearts rejoice because he was in our lives. Indeed, Coach was a very good gift from God, and we praise God for his life and love.”
In addition to his wife Armita, a 1968 Union graduate, Blackstock is survived by their two children, Dixie and Rebel, and by his brother R.T. and wife Nita of Penney Farms, Florida. He was a member of Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson.
Blackstock’s memorial service will be Nov. 5 at 2 p.m. at Englewood. The family will receive friends following the service.
In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that memorial contributions be directed to the Blackstock Family Fund at Union University, the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home or to Englewood Baptist Church.