“I have been doing this a long time. JW knew what to do. Congratulations, dad,” he said.
JW came off the mat after being declared the winner of his first match and said, “Thanks Coach Blatnick.”
“You’re welcome. Good job,” he replied to the beaming wrestler. Then he melted away into the crowd.
As a former coach, I paid close attention to his interaction with his wrestlers and parents. Blatnick approached wrestling with passion, but without overexuberance. Many matches he would say a few words to the wrestler then wait, watch, then add a few more words.
Win, lose or draw Jeff would articulate what the wrestler did correctly and then point out what could have been done better. He had the ability to analyze and break down a concept to the simplest terms so his pupils understood not only that it was important, but why. He was patient and very precise.
With parents he would set expectations and help them understand their role was to help him help the athlete. So rarely is that done in sports today.
I don’t claim to have been a good friend of Jeff’s, but I certainly was a fan of his style.
If I were to write his resume I would list it like this: 1984 Olympic Champion, MMA and ESPN analyst, professional speaker, coach, mentor, husband and father of two. I would add, for me, in small type at the bottom: “Helped little kid win his first wrestling match.”
Thank you, Jeff, for all you did for our community.
We will miss you.