Profiles in Badassery: Roger Blalock

T-Mill has given me the honor of writing about Roger Blalock for Hammer and Rails after I posted news of his death this morning. Since he not only played basketball at Purdue for 2 seasons and was the main person to hire Dave Shondell for the volleyball program, I believed that alone earned him his own Profile in Badassery. However, just reading about this man throughout the day, he is the epitome of what it means to be a Boilermaker.

I never knew who this man was until the Volleyball Senior Night this past season against Nebraska, where he was honored for his contribution to the volleyball program as he was retiring in January from his position. I remember him as "that one guy who looks like Professor Johnny Brown" (probably the best Math professor at Purdue, but I digress). Even though I only saw him that weekend, I could tell he was a great man. From what I have read, Roger radiated joy to everyone he met, and was someone you could become friends with after just one meeting. BoilerPaulie posted a great letter from a former Purdue basketball player that I will quote later, but Paul also said:

"I only got to speak to Roger a few times, but he was a very genuine man, and he would speak to anybody. He may have been a figurehead in Purdue Athletics for pretty much forever, but he also did a lot in the community. If you've been a student since he became Senior Associate AD, chances are you've been affected by him in some way, whether you realize it or not - he oversaw men's and women's cross country, softball, men's and women's track and field, volleyball and wrestling.

Also, I'll echo oldboiler52 - the man always smiled."

Roger Blalock first came to Purdue from Chicago back in the late 1960s to play basketball under Coach George King. He hardly knew about Purdue before committing to the Old Gold and Black over Minnesota. Blalock was a 2 year letter winner during his time at Purdue, and during the 1966-1967 season Blalock averaged 12.7 points a game. During the 1967-68 season, the opening season of Mackey Arena, Roger only played 8 games before he broke his ankle against Butler in December that ultimately ended his college career. Roger served as a volunteer coach for Purdue in 1969 as they went on to play for the National Title before losing to UCLA (insert Hutch article here). Roger stayed at Purdue, earning his Bachelor's in Physical Education with a Communication minor in 1969. However, during his time at Purdue, his biggest impact might have been off the court.

Around the late 1960s, America was changing with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement in full swing. After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, approximately 150 Purdue students participated in a non-violent demonstration demanding equal rights for black Purdue students. They marched in single file from the Stewart Center to Hovde Hall, each laying a red brick at the steps, next to a sign that read: "Or the Fire Next Time." Roger Blalock was one of the 150 students that marched in 1968, and was one of the people interviewed for the documentary, "Black Purdue" that discussed the 1968 demonstration and Black History at Purdue. During the interview, you could tell that even during the time of the interview (2009), the march was very important and personal to him as he expressed his emotions in the documentary. Though change was slow, as shown through the 1969 Exponent article, the movement eventually led to the formation of the Purdue Black Cultural Center in 1970, as well as further integration of the black community at Purdue.


The Black Purdue documentary featuring Roger Blalock. A must see for everyone.

After Roger left Purdue, he went to go work for Dow Chemical Co., but also considered working in radio and television after jobs with WLFI and WBAA radio. He even considered going into the teaching and going back to Chicago to teach at the high school level. But no matter what he did, Purdue was calling his name to return.

Roger Blalock knew what it meant to be Boilermaker, and did everything he could to help make Purdue a better place. He would return to Purdue in 1972 to become a financial aid counselor, where he would help handle federal aid programs for students, as well as organizing college caravans to inner-city high schools throughout the state of Indiana. He remained in that position until he became an assistant basketball coach under Fred Schaus from 1974-1979. Schaus wanted Blalock on his staff because of his Old Gold and Black background, and in one night he moved his office to the athletic side of Purdue. Roger made the most of his position, and was instrumental in recruiting Joe Barry Carroll to attend Purdue over Kentucky and Arkansas. He even personally visited Carroll in Denver, as well as bringing Otis Armstrong to help with the recruiting effort.

When Lee Rose became the head coach at Purdue in 1978, Blalock got the short end of the stick as the NCAA reduced the number of assistant coaches, leading Roger to a brief career as lead assistant coach at Eastern Michigan, while his wife remained at Purdue to serve as the Director of Minority Engineering at Purdue. Once again, Purdue was calling Roger's name, and he came back to West Lafayette in 1981 to serve as the assistant director in the Office of Admissions until he was promoted to Associate Director in 1992. That year, Roger participated in the search committee that would eventually choose Morgan Burke to be Purdue's new Athletic Director.

With the new relationship he has with Burke, he was hired to be the Compliance Coordinator in 1994 and then Assistant Athletic Director a year later, then in 1999 he was promoted to Associate Athletic Director where he served in that position until 2004. In June 2004, Roger Blalock was promoted to his highest position while at Purdue as Senior Associate Athletic Director. While he served in his position, he oversaw Men's and Women's Cross Country and Track, Softball, Wrestling, and Volleyball, including the hire of Dave Shondell.

As I said earlier, Roger Blalock had a radiating personality that spread to everyone. From his short Purdue basketball career, to his involvement with the administration and his involvement with the Civil Rights movement, it seems like everyone at Purdue was affected by him in some way, even if they never met him. The Purdue Black Alumni Organization even created a scholarship in his honor, as the PBAO honored him during Homecoming 2009 with a Distinguished Faculty and Staff Award. A former basketball player at Purdue had this to say about Roger:

To the Purdue Basketball Family,

With a sad heart, this is to inform you that Roger Blalock passed away earlier today at his home. Funeral arrangements are pending and we will pass them on to you once we get them.

We lost a great Purdue man today who helped so many in so many ways. Many of you may know that even after his retirement just a few weeks ago from the Purdue Athletic staff, he was immediately asked to help the local community's Hannah Center in Lafayette to help them get back on their feet. Without hesitation, he jumped right in with his big heart and terrific administrative skills in their time of need...typical of Roger.

Please keep JB and their son, RB, and Marion, and their daughter, Erin, and her son, Miles, in your thoughts and prayers as they go through this difficult time.

Please pass this on to anyone not listed above or who you think should know about Roger.

Randy

Roger saw his position at Purdue as a chance to help students, especially those who thought they could not get in or succeed at Purdue. Roger gave them the tools they needed to not only become great athletes, but to become Boilermakers. If every Purdue fan had even just half the passion that Roger had, the Old Gold and Black would spread across the world like the blue sky on a sunny day. Even just reading up on him today, I have to say, Roger Blalock is the epitome of what it means to be a Boilermaker. He is probably already up in heaven preparing a banquet and rolling out the red carpet, ready to welcome every Boilermaker that enters through the Gates of Heaven.

Roger, the whole Boilermaker family misses you tremendously, and we are forever thankful for your contribution to the Purdue community.


Sources:

J&C: Purdue's Roger Blalock dead; called 'man with a big heart'

Longtime Boilermaker Roger Blalock leaves lasting legacy (2011)

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