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Coaching champion

Former Hart head coach inducted into Mt. SAC Hall of Fame

Posted: October 29, 2008 9:22 p.m.
Updated: December 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Gene Blankenship, former head coach of the Hart cross country and track and field teams, stands with a plaque he recently received after he was inducted into the Mt. SAC Cross Country Invitational Hall of Fame. Blankenship's teams won three straight CIF-SS titles, including a national championship in 1991.

 

For 11 seasons, 1982-92, Gene Blankenship was synonymous with championship-winning Hart cross country teams.

All that time spent molding young runners into consistent champions was finally rewarded on Oct. 23, when the 66-year-old former head coach of the Hart cross country and track teams was inducted into the Mt. San Antonio College California Coaches Hall of Fame.

The induction took place before last Saturday's Mt. SAC Invitational, one of the biggest cross country meets in the United States.

"It was quite an honor," Blankenship said. "It was kind of a ruse, though. They got me to speak at a coaching clinic back in July. That's when they told me."

Born in Boyle Heights, Blankenship attended Leuzinger High School, located in Lawndale and near Hawthorne. He ran for El Camino College, took eight years off and went to San Fernando Valley State, which is now Cal State Northridge.

He is currently the assistant boys head coach at West Valley High School in Spokane, Wash.

The team was fifth last season in the state meet and third the year before.

In 1991, Blankenship coached the Indians' boys cross country team that finished undefeated and won the national championship, which at that time was voted on by coaches.

At Woodward Park in Fresno, where the finals were held, Hart's fastest five runners finished with times ranging from 15:24 seconds to 16:19.

During Blankenship's 11-year reign, the Indian boys teams won three straight CIF-SS titles (1990-92), finished second twice and third another six times.

His girls teams finished third in CIF four times during that span. The boys and girls cross country teams each won 10 Foothill League championships in a row.

"It was just hard work," Blankenship said. "You can be the best coach in the world, but you (also) have to have talent."

Some of Blankenship's top runners were Frank Flores, who went on to the Naval Academy, and standout three-miler, Lisa Rizzo, who attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.

Blankenship, who worked for the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department for 31 years, also helped coordinate slow-pitch softball and basketball programs. He also began a T-ball program.

Asked why he got into coaching, Balnkenship replied, "You work with great kids, real good people."

One of Blankenship's colleagues in the Santa Clarita Valley is Rene Paragas the head cross country coach of Saugus High, a former runner at Hart. Paragas' girls team is currently ranked No. 1 in the CIF-SS Division II coaches' poll and was No. 2 in the country. His boys team is ranked third.

"He's a very old school guy," Paragas said. "He'll go to a meet, not know anyone there and watch just for fun."

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