Coach Blanke: Reflections

It would not be hard to believe that Coach was "placed" at McKinley by some higher power who provided such a much-needed man for a school where his qualities would rub off just due to our collective need. Imagine if he would have coached at Ladue or some other well-to-do school where their needs were far less than ours. His genius might very well have been wasted. Being placed in a school of lower-middle class families, his talents and lessons were readily absorbed as if we were sponges. There's a comforting symmetry that throughout the years, Coach felt the love, respect, admiration and adoration that we all felt for him. Tom Kiske '61 wrote his personal reflections on our beloved Coach and wanted to share these thoughts with all of us that truly loved our "Coach".

I found myself thinking about Coach while scarfing down a burger at lunch today, and, more specifically, about "the Blanke Phenomenon." What I mean by that is, here's a guy who was a high school football coach - not a doctor, not an important lawyer, not a minister of the Gospel, not a political or business leader - a guy who lived and died on the south side of St. Louis city and county. He probably never made enough money to be considered wealthy - and yet it's clear from the McKinley luncheons and other get-togethers, plus the things people have written to this web site, that a whole lot of people LOVED this man. People who met him in their teens and hadn't even seen him over an intervening period of decades, still felt that way about him.

You have to wonder why. What was there about this guy that drew people to him and inspired such respect and loyalty over the years? As we get up there in years ourselves, it's not uncommon to consider the question, "How will I be remembered when I'm gone?" Maybe Coach has a lesson for us in that regard.

I'm sure Coach had his faults, probably got pissed off from time to time, made some mistakes, had some regrets, and he'd be the last to wish to be canonized. Furthermore, it would be easy to attribute his "popularity" to the fact that, well, hell, he was a WINNING coach. You and I know there's a lot more to the Blanke Phenomenon than that. I'll leave it to others who knew Coach better than I to puzzle out the details of why this man touched so many lives in such a positive and enduring way, but I'll suggest two things I saw in him.

First, he was a no-bullshit guy. Even back when we were in school there was a lot of bureaucratic crap teachers had to put up with, rules to be enforced and such. Coach had a way of cutting thru that and focusing on what was important. There were rules and then there were Rules. I'm sure he had to do his Boy's Room duty like the rest of the male teachers, but I doubt he'd haul you by the ear down to the principal's office if he caught you smoking. He was fair.

Secondly, and maybe most important, he cared about people, and you felt it. You were a person to Coach Blanke, not just a position on a team or a cipher in a grade book. If somebody needed help, he went WAY out of his way to do what he could. In addition, he didn't make a big deal out of it.

A lot of people looked up to this guy and I have no doubt that he influenced many lives for the better. There is a definition of success that says, a man is a success who leaves the world a little better than he found it, whether by an improved rose, a well-written poem, or a rescued soul. I don't think Coach Blanke knew much about flowers or poetry, but by the most important measure, he left this place much, much better than he found it.

Would that we all could do as well...

Tom Kiske '61