BY PEDRO VELAZCO KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — Summer Blackamore didn’t want to go to far away from home when she went to college.
Fortunately, when she visited Indiana State University, a two-hour drive away, she felt like she’d never left.
“I didn’t feel out of place. I felt at home,” said Blackamore, a senior Wildkat track and field standout. She signed a letter of intent with ISU on Monday.
Blackamore said that in her visit to the school, and then a week later at a home meet, she found a comfort zone with the coaches and athletes on the men’s and women’s teams.
“It was the whole group,” she said. “I bonded with [coach Angela Martin], had a nice conversation with her, and the throws coach is Erin Gilreath, I had a bond with her from talking on the phone, to meeting her in person. And then with all the girls, and the guys too at practice, we all bonded together.”
In Blackamore, Indiana State gets one of the top throwers in the state. Blackamore took fifth in the state in shot put last year with an effort of 42 feet, 10.25 inches, and was seventh in discus with a toss of 132-4.
At Kokomo she works under the eye of throws coach Bobby Pettigrew, a two-time state champ in shot put when he was a student at Kokomo. He was the first person to clue her in as to her potential.
“I threw in middle school but I didn’t have a coach,” Blackamore said. “I was trying to teach myself and go with what I saw, but my freshman year, after about sectionals when I got first in shot and disc, he told me at regionals ‘you can make it to state. If you keep getting better every year, in four years you’ll get a scholarship.’”
That was the first time Blackamore had thought of that. Now, she’s headed to a school where she trusts her situation both as a competitor and as a person.
“The head coach, she knows my coach Bobby and they’ve known each other for quite some time, and her husband has known him for quite some time, and I know coach Gilreath has competed at a high level and she knows what it takes to get to the next level.”
That wasn’t the most important factor in selecting a school, but it gave ISU another boost.
“I didn’t want to be too far, I wanted a good school, I wanted a good program, education is always first, but at the same time with [Gilreath], she knows what it takes to get there,” Blackamore said.
Gilreath is a University of Florida graduate who was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. Last year, Gilreath coached Felisha Johnson to the 2013 indoor national title in the weight throw.
Blackamore plans to study information technology at ISU. Before that, she’s eyeing a top-two finish at state this season. She has been working year-round with Kokomo track coach K.O. Jackson to improve her explosive power.
“She had to give up basketball, and in a city where basketball is king, that was huge,” Jackson said. “Now, she’s getting a scholarship and that’s huge. That means you had to put in more work, you had to put in the indoor season, fall season, because our program is set up like a college season. That’s a lot of big commitment from these young ladies. She was able to adhere to it and here’s the payoff.
“She probably doesn’t like it [the advanced training] a lot, jumping over cones, running stairs, and running 150 meters. But that’s what’s required of a thrower at the next level, and what’s going to be expected if she wants to get to the Olympics.”
Jackson noted that Blackamore threw 39 feet a year ago in indoor meets, and now she’s at 41 feet. She’s made major improvements in a short time after committing herself fully to track and field.
“In USA Track and Field terminology, she’s still a baby,” Jackson said. “Maybe she has one full year of training because she’s played basketball. She hasn’t picked up any bad habits. Bobby’s one of the best, he’s a hall of famer, he’s one of the best throwers ever. You take what Bobby’s given her, the speed and training I’ve given her, and now she’s going to go to a throws coach [that has competed in national and world events]. The sky is the limit for her.”