The veteran coach has resigned after four years of leading the Wildcats to focus on his role as coordinator of Winter Park’s International Baccalaureate program.
After a memorable run of four seasons at the helm of the Winter Park High boys basketball program — a run that included a state championship in 2014 — Don Blackmon announced last week he is stepping down as the Wildcats’ head coach to focus on the academic side of his job.
Blackmon has been named the coordinator for the International Baccalaureate program at Winter Park High, meaning he will oversee a program involving more than 500 students and 30 teachers.
For as passionate as the veteran coach is about high-school hoops, given his more than 15 years of coaching experience, he also is passionate about the IB program’s ability to prepare students for college and life. It is something he has witnessed firsthand: His own daughter was educated through the program from kindergarten through 12th grade in Brevard County.
His excitement at his new academic opportunity notwithstanding, Blackmon said it was by no means an easy decision to step away from the program — especially a program such as Winter Park.
“The players at Winter Park, the students at Winter Park — Winter Park is a very special place to be a part of,” Blackmon said. “That gym — it has so much atmosphere and character. You walk in there, and you can feel the things that have happened.”
Highlights for Blackmon’s four-year run begin with the team’s thrilling run to the 2014 FHSAA Class 8A State Championship. Not only did the Wildcats earn a ring and finish with a 29-3 record, but also they did so in riveting fashion. Winter Park won its final three games by either one or two points, including overtime wins in the state semifinal and state final.
“(That season was) as special as you can get — those were special kids,” Blackmon said. “Beyond belief.”
In the next season, the 2014-15 season, Winter Park went 19-10 with a district title. In 2015-16, the Wildcats made it back to the Final Four in Lakeland before falling in the state semifinal to end with a 21-10 record.
“The players at Winter Park, the students at Winter Park — Winter Park is a very special place to be a part of. That gym — it has so much atmosphere and character. You walk in there, and you can feel the things that have happened.”
The 2016-17 season, Blackmon’s last, saw Winter Park underachieve because of injuries and some inconsistent play. Despite a down year in which the Wildcats finished below .500 (10-16) and missed the playoffs, Blackmon said the program is in great shape for his successor.
“This program has a lot of talent — from the freshman to the incoming eighth-graders we’re really excited for,” Blackmon said. “We have two seniors … who are just going to bring tons of leadership. This team has a chance to be really special next year.”
However the Wildcats perform in the 2017-18 season, it’s a safe bet Blackmon will be spotted at some games in the Winter Park gymnasium — though, not exclusively there.
The one perk of not coaching a specific team is that a high-school hoops junkie such as Blackmon is free to check out some of Central Florida’s other big games on any given night.
“I’m going to make it to a heck of a lot of games,” Blackmon said. “I’m going to be able to see some special basketball — Central Florida has just had incredible talent the past 10 years. … I’m going to sneak into some practices of some coaches I have a lot of respect for.”
Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].