“Of course,” I replied.
The coach swung his head around and smiled. “I meant him, dad,” he said, pointing to JW.
That was the first time I really interacted with Jeff Blatnick.
With his untimely death last week at the age of 55, I thought back about the person being described by friends, colleagues and the public.
Many people saw Jeff as an Olympic champion, a world-class wrestler, motivational speaker or a superstar. I had a different view of him. Because I didn’t grow up in the Capital District, I never knew him as those things. I always saw him as a father, coach and fellow Burnt Hills parent. He was unimposing, almost shy. Unlike so many who have achieved fame, he never pushed himself to the front of a room or made himself the center of attention unless someone asked him to help.
And help he did at Burnt Hills.
Jeff Blatnick talked strategy with JW in the foreign language of wrestling before he stepped onto the mat at that tournament years ago. JW, only weighing 60 pounds soaking wet, usually drew the stud champions in the first round and always wrestled first. This, most often, meant he would be pinned in less than two minutes.
It was back and forth until the end of the first period. The second was close, with both wrestlers scoring points. I just took pictures, like I always do, and kept my mouth shut as coach and kid communicated through short commands and subsequent moves. “Arm. Watch the leg. Squeeze. Good. Easy.” Blatnick kept a steady, calm tone. Then he turned to me.
I was floored. “What? How could it be over, he’s doing so well!”
Blatnick just grinned and pointed. I turned back around and brought my camera up and snapped a few frames as JW rolled, flopped the opponent over and pinned him with three slaps of the mat from the referee. I turned to the coach, “How did you know that was going to happen?” I asked.