Sumiton Christian head baseball coach Lance Blair is a living testimony that sometimes, our careers choose us.
Words by Nick Norris | Images by Blakeney Clouse
Lance Blair is coming up on his 19thyear of coaching baseball at Sumiton Christian High School (SCS), and in that time, he has racked up plenty of wins and even more memories.
Blair’s contribution to the school goes far deeper than the success he continues to find on the field. The coach has always maintained a reputation built on honesty and respect.
“If there’s one thing I want to see my players doing when they’re grown,” Blair says, “it’s to be working hard. Men can get themselves into trouble when they aren’t working. If they are working and taking care of their families like they should, then I’m pleased.”
Students know Blair is a straight shooter, not one to sugarcoat things, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t one to cut up and have fun. If you have walked the halls of SCS in the last couple of decades, you have likely heard the tune of Blair’s famous air-trumpet sounding between classes and likely a joke or two.
“This job has been a perfect fit,” Blair explains. “I knew it would be in my first interview with Becky Potts, the principal at the time, when I saw how friendly she was. I started two days later.”
It’s difficult to imagine Blair doing anything other than what he loves, but that was not always the plan.
Early on, Blair volunteered to help coach his former high school team but eventually moved away from coaching. A summertime opportunity to coach at a baseball camp at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) reminded him of his love for the game. Still, he wasn’t convinced.
Two years later, West Jefferson High School reached out to Blair and convinced him to coach their junior high basketball team. Of course, he ended up coaching baseball, as well.
“Coaching kept choosing me, rather than me choosing it,” Blair admits.
After hearing recommendations by some trusted friends, Blair decided to accept an interview at SCS. He has remained a staple of the school ever since and is considered one of the most important hires in the school’s history. The school seems to agree, having named its baseball field in his honor. And the coach deserves it. After all, he brought SCS its first and only baseball state championship in 2004.
“Now, that was a strange year,” Blair grins, thinking back to that championship season. “We had graduated a really successful class of seven seniors prior. They had gone to the semifinals and quarterfinals the three years before, and now we were left with a much younger team. We had one senior, two juniors, and the rest were sophomores or younger.”
The season started out rough to say the least. After their tenth game, the Eagles were 2-8.
“We were really bad at baseball,” Blair laughs. “But we ended up reeling off like 15 of our last 17 games and evening our record. We had some talented guys like Ricky Bowen, Trent Mummey, Chris Sosebee, Alex Turner, Adam Langley, and Taylor Huff, who all later played in college. But even with that talent, we didn’t get hot until the playoffs. In fact, we ended up dropping our last three games to 1A teams, including one to Parrish High School, who I believe was 3-17 at the time.”
But something changed in the playoffs. Blair claims he isn’t sure what made it happen, but his team began defying the odds.
“A lefty gave us a scare in the first round,” Blair recalls, “but we ran a trick play and ended up getting by. Then we faced a pitcher in the second who went on to pitch for the Brewers. So we played some extremely talented teams, but I guess we just had the momentum. Our team was so young that they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to win it. I guess they just decided to anyway.”
That win led to one of the most memorable moments of the coach’s life.
“I don’t want people to think the state championship is all I ever think about,” Blair clarifies. “There have been other years that I believe more has been accomplished from a long-term standpoint. Some of the best coaching jobs from our assistants have come in recent years. But one thing I will never forget is stepping off that bus and holding up the state championship trophy in front of the crowd waiting for us outside of the school. Kids were cheering, holding signs and balloons. It was just an amazing feeling. My dad got to see that before he passed away. Him being there and getting to see my life’s work was just really special.”
Now Blair is about to face a new challenge. “Some former players tell me I’m not as hard on kids as I used to be,” Blair says. “I’m not sure that’s true, but being a father has made me a wiser coach. My son is entering seventh grade this year, so that means I’ll be coaching him for the first time. He calls me “Coach” now instead of “Dad,”—so that’s different. It’s going to be interesting.”
Blair has made plenty of significant memories on the field, but if the game has anything to say about it, there will be more memories ahead. 78