Spartans tab ex-Viking Blackmon to head football program
By Jason Maholy
Harold Blackmon is no stranger to challenges.
The Northwestern grad and former Seattle Seahawks defensive back came to Saint Laurence in 2012 to lead a football program that hadn’t won a playoff game in nearly 20 years.
Four seasons later, the Vikings advanced to the IHSA Class 5A state semifinals. They repeated that achievement the following year, this time in Class 6A, and in 2017 made it to the 6A quarterfinals.
For those keeping track, that equates to eight playoff victories in three seasons, for a program that hadn’t sniffed the second round since 1993.
Blackmon will now attempt to resurrect another football program that has experienced its share of struggles over the past 25-plus years. Fired by St. Laurence in April after seven seasons at the helm, Blackmon found his next challenge a little more than two miles away at Oak Lawn.
The Spartans announced Blackmon as their new head football coach on May 1, exactly one month after he was dismissed from St. Laurence.
“Well, it was a long four to five weeks,” Blackmon said of his brief separation from football. “I was just very fortunate that the timing of things played out when they did, and that [Oak Lawn Athletic Director Jeremy Cryan] was able to get me in and go through the interview process and give me the chance to show what I feel like I can do from a football standpoint.”
Blackmon takes over a program that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009, which was also the last season the Spartans finished at or above .500. Oak Lawn has won more then three games only twice in the past nine seasons, going 23-58 in that span. They were 2-7 last year after heading into the season believing the playoff drought was coming to an end. They haven’t won a playoff game since 1991.
Blackmon admitted he was not aware of the Spartans history until he went through the interview process for the job. He’s watched video of every Spartans game from 2018, and believes the team is on the cusp of breaking through.
“I’m excited about being here,” he said. “I thought a lot of those (2018) games could have gone either way. It’s a challenge for me, but I feel like compared to what I walked into at St. Laurence – in terms of culture, in terms of confidence – I feel like at Oak Lawn we’re so far ahead of where that was.”
Blackmon credits former Spartans head coach Nick Novak for building a strong foundation with which he’ll have to work. Novak stepped down from his post, citing his desire to spend more time with his family.
“I explained to the players that I don’t have all the answers, but what I’m going to do is take what coach Novak has built and take it to the next level,” Blackmon said. “I made sure to give him credit because he’s done great job with those young men. I don’t think they’re far away at all, but only time will tell.”
Blackmon noted the Spartans started seven sophomores in 2018.
“When you have seven sophomores starting, that’s tough – believe me, I know from my time at St. Laurence,” he said. “I think it was a little bit of a lack of maturity and lack of belief that you can win. But I feel like in terms of talent, they’re close.
“I think the players are excited. They welcomed me, and it seems like a great group of players. They’re excited to have this new start.”
Blackmon, who will fill the position of permanent substitute teacher, hopes his influence goes beyond the football field.
“I got into coaching to help high school athletes, to be a mentor and role model,” he said. “If I can do that and we can win some games on top of that, then things are good.”
Blackmon knows he will be faced with more than just the challenge of building sustained success at a struggling program, particularly in his first year. He understands the possibility exists that he will lose players who may decide he’s not the coach they want to play for and don’t want to buy what he’s selling.
He also said patience is essential. St. Laurence finished 1-8 and 4-5 his first two seasons in Burbank, before going 5-4 in the regular season and qualifying for the playoffs in 2014.
“As a coach that’s always the toughest thing, is to come in and put your stamp on a program,” he said. “I think it comes down to the type of kids you have, and I think that half the battle is just getting enough players to believe in the process.
“Showing up, working out, believing in yourself. As we did that (at St. Laurence) and stayed consistent, I think people started to see the progress, and eventually there was a breakthrough there, and I hope the same thing happens at Oak Lawn.”
Another challenge Blackmon is facing is keeping players at Oak Lawn, when they know they have a better chance for athletic success at private schools such as Marist, Brother Rice, St. Rita and Mount Carmel. He said the facilities and academics at Oak Lawn rival those at any private school.
“I can say this, having been in private school my entire life, I wasn’t aware of what the suburban schools have to offer,” he said. “When I toured the facilities I realized they’re great for players, for academics and athletics. There are a lot of things Oak Lawn has to offer that they don’t advertise because they’re not a private school.
“If this was a private school it would be $15,000 tuition a year, easy.”
Blackmon can’t guarantee wins or playoff berths, but his track record speaks for itself. He’s looking forward to getting on the field and molding a new crop of high school athletes into a perennially competitive program.
“It should be a great story, and I can guarantee I ‘ll give everything I have,” he said.
Coffee with a Cop in Palos Park
Palos Park police are again asking residents to join them for a cup of joe at “Coffee With A Cop” at the Plush Horse, 12301 S. 86th Avenue. On May 12, residents were encouraged to bring their public safety concerns and stop by for a cup of coffee and to chat with officers Kevin Green…
Orland Township to host summer job fair June 7
From staff reports Orland Township will host its Summer Job Fair on Tuesday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Orland Township Activity Center, 14807 S. Ravinia Avenue, Orland Park. The fair is open to all members of the public, and attendance is highly encouraged. Nearly 30 companies will be attending, representing…
Feds indict Summit police chief, building inspector
Indictment says they shared a bribe over liquor license for the Mars Bar A federal grand jury this week indicted Summit Police Chief John Kosmowski and building inspector Bill Mundy with sharing a bribe from a business owner in 2017 to facilitate the transfer of a liquor license for the Mars Bar. The indictment returned…
Obituaries May 26, 2022
DOROTHY F. DUNAJCIK Dorothy F. Dunajcik, age 89, of Summit, passed away peacefully May 9. She was the beloved wife of the late John Dunajcik; cherished mother of Joanne (Jim) Fenton and the late John Dunajcik. Dorothy was preceded in death by all of her siblings, Joseph (Frieda) Drobitsch, Ann (Jimmy) Farrell, Mary (Leon) Brotemarkle,…
Orland Park to add 7 names during Memorial Day ceremony
The Orland Park community is invited to join the village this Memorial Day in remembrance of those who have given their lives for our country. The ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, May 30, at the village’s memorial, Ara Pace – Place of Peace, located outside of Village Hall at 14700 S.…
Girls Soccer: De La Salle tops Bremen for program’s first regional title
By Steve Millar Correspondent De La Salle coach Carlos Nunez has seen his teams come up a bit short in the postseason repeatedly over the years. The Meteors had never won a regional championship in girls soccer. Until this year, that is. “I’ve been in every single one that we’ve lost in,” Nunez said. “We’ve…
Pro soccer report: Pugh tallies twice return in Red Stars’ win over Orlando
By Jeff Vorva Staff Writer Mallory Pugh gave a sample of what could be a big 2022 season when she scored four goals in the exhibition Challenge Cup series. But the Red Stars scoring threat missed the first two games of the NWSL season with an injury, and the team split decisions against Louisville and…
New ward map OKed
Reflects Madigan’s power By Tim Hadac The City Council this week approved a new ward map that, among other things, will see all of Clearing and most of Garfield Ridge shifted to the 13th Ward. Midway International Airport also would shift from the 23rd Ward to the 13th. Monday’s 43-7 vote means the issue will…
Area Sports Roundup: Sandburg takes 2nd at Bajenski tourney
By Jeff Vorva Staff writer The Sandburg baseball team has had more downs than ups this season. But the Eagles finished the regular season on a strong note with a run to second place at the Steven M. Bajenski Memorial Tournament, which wrapped up May 21 at Ozinga Field in Crestwood. To get to the…
Former lawmaker sentenced in bribery scheme
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Former state Rep. Luis Arroyo was sentenced this week to nearly five years in prison for his role in a bribery scheme involving a state senator and one of Arroyo’s private lobbying clients who sought favorable legislation for the sweepstakes gambling industry. Arroyo, 67, is a…
Republican governor candidates on the issues
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Abortion, January 6, Donald Trump, Critical Race Theory and whether Joe Biden is rightfully the president of the United States were the basis of questions asked to a field of six Republican candidates for Illinois governor Tuesday. A pair of debates took place on two stages…
CAPITOL RECAP: Republican candidates debate
By CAPITOL NEWS ILLINOIS SPRINGFIELD – The six Republican candidates for Illinois governor faced off Tuesday night in Chicago, albeit on two separate debate stages, hours after a shooting at a Texas elementary school that dominated a large portion of the debates. A scheduling conflict between two TV networks – WGN and NBC 5 –…
ANALYSIS: Illinois’ official U.S. census numbers have not changed
By PETER HANCOCK Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Gov. JB Pritzker said Tuesday that he is asking President Joe Biden and the federal government to increase Illinois’ share of federal funding to reflect the results of a recent Census Bureau study showing the state was very likely undercounted in the 2020 census. The news…
GOP debate: Candidates address rising crime, Texas school shooting
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – The six Republican candidates for Illinois governor faced off Tuesday night in Chicago, albeit on two separate debate stages, hours after a shooting at a Texas elementary school that dominated a large portion of the debates. A scheduling conflict between two TV networks – WGN and…
GOP Floor Leader Batinick ready to ‘pass the baton’
By GRACE KINNICUTT Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – Illinois House Republican Floor Leader Mark Batinick, a self-described “policy guy,” came to Springfield with the goal of pushing good policy. A father of five who resides in Plainfield with his wife, Batinick said after eight years in the General Assembly, it was either time to…
Longtime lawmaker reflects on time in General Assembly, calls it ‘honor of lifetime’
By GRACE KINNICUTT Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – House Majority Leader Greg Harris, the number two Democrat in the Illinois House of Representatives, never imagined landing the role of state representative – or that he would leave office feeling that he has been successful at it. The first openly LGTBQ leader in Illinois History,…
11th contempt citation filed against DCFS director
By BETH HUNDSDORFER Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – On Thursday afternoon, a Cook County judge found Illinois Department of Children and Family Services Director Marc Smith in contempt of court for the 11th time for violating court orders to move children to proper placements. The 11-year-old girl at the center of the case has…
Criminal case against senior staff at state-run hospital dismissed
By BETH HUNDSDORFER Capitol News Illinois [email protected] SPRINGFIELD – The official misconduct case against a Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center senior staff member was dismissed on Thursday. Union County State’s Attorney Tyler Tripp dropped the charges, related to a cover-up of abuse at the state-run facility, against Choate’s quality assurance manager Gary Goins. The…
ANALYSIS: Fuel retailers sue over ‘compelled speech’ at the gas pump
By JERRY NOWICKI Capitol News Illinois [email protected] “As of July 1, 2022, the State of Illinois has suspended the inflation adjustment to the motor fuel tax through December 31, 2022. The price on this pump should reflect the suspension of the tax increase.” Those two sentences may be coming to a gas pump near you…