Hamilton Central boys basketball coach Tom Blackford knew almost 60 years ago what he wanted to be when he grew up.
Blackford was a young, only child living in New Jersey when his 42-year-old father died of a heart attack. He and his mother moved to Cazenovia soon after that, and when Blackford got more and more involved in youth sports, his gym teachers and football, basketball and baseball coaches left an ever-lasting impression.
"They were like my guardians, my mentors," Blackford says. "So at 10 years old, I already knew that I wanted to be a teacher and a coach."
For the record, he has no regrets.
Instead, Blackford, who retired as a physical education instructor in 2012, is in his 40th season as a high school coach. And now, after his unbeaten and state-ranked Hamilton Central team's 87-37 home win over Sauquoit Valley on January 13th, "Blackie" owns the record for the most wins in Section III boys basketball history.
The state-ranked No. 6 Emerald Knights improved to 10-0 with the win that raised Blackford's career record to 572-285, breaking a tie with former Bishop Ludden coach Pat Donnelly for the all-time Section III record.
Blackford was inducted into the Greater Utica Sports Hall of Fame (GUSHOF) last fall, and in recent years, he has passed fellow GUSHOF coaches Mike Tomassetti (377 wins) of New York Mills, Dave Gaylord (426) of Remsen, Al Knapp (539) of Vernon-Verona-Sherrill and Brookfield, and Mike Adey (567) on the Section III boys basketball wins list.
"It's pretty cool," Blackford says of his record run. "But I never got into coaching to break records."
Blackford, a Cazenovia High School and SUNY Cortland graduate, started coaching boys basketball at Hamilton Central in 1982 and spent 20 seasons there, winning Class D state titles in 1994 and 2000 before taking over at Class AA Fayetteville-Manlius. In 14 seasons at F-M, Blackford's Hornets went 180-114.
Blackford, who returned to Hamilton six years ago, is a member of the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame, the Cazenovia Hall of Fame, and the Hamilton Central Hall of Honor. Besides the two state titles, Blackford's teams have won five Section III championships and 13 league titles.
But he wasn't talking about the wins or doing all of that winning when he was honored following the Section III record-breaking win January 13.
"It's all about the relationships," says Blackford. "It's not all about me. It's a two-way street. I like developing relationships. I love my players. I always try to make it fun. I trust them and they trust me."
Blackford, a 68-year-old grandfather who lives in Morrisville with his wife Val and their three dogs, has missed only one practice in his 40 seasons as a boys basketball coach. That was because one of his six all-state point guards, former Hamilton star Shaun Marcellus, was getting married in Pennsylvania.
"I'm still living my dream," Blackford said. "I never thought I would be coaching for 40 years, but I've gotten to live my dream, and I honestly feel like I can coach another 10 years."
By Ron Moshier