By Seth Kinker, firstname.lastname@example.org
When the 2018 school year begins, the Manchester Flying Dutchmen Athletic Program will be led by a new face. Wes Gall retired at the end of last year after being involved as a coach in some capacity at Manchester since 1975, and as the athletic director since 1999.
LaVell Blanchard will now be leading Dutchmen athletics. If the name sounds familiar you might remember him from nearby Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, MI., where he earned Gatorade National Player of the Year Honors during his senior year in 1999 averaging 27.7 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, two steals, and 1.5 blocks per game en route to leading his team to a Class A Michigan High School Athletic Association state championship.
Blanchard then played collegiately for the University of Michigan from 1999-2003. He was a Big Ten Freshman of the Year (2000) and a four-time All-Big Ten Conference Player. He was only the fifth player to lead an NCAA team in scoring and rebounding, four times.
After not being drafted after his senior season, Blanchard went overseas, playing professional basketball for 11 years in Italy, France, Germany, Brazil, and Argentina.
When he returned home in 2014, he went back to school and earned a master’s degree in sports management from Eastern Michigan University. He then began working towards a certification in administration. During that time, he was working at Ypsilanti Community High School as an assistant athletic director/coordinator.
Education and sports were two big themes in Blanchard’s family, something that has led him to where he is today. His mother was a teacher and his father an athlete, and after playing professionally, he knew he wanted to try and give back to the youth.
“When I was over there (playing) I always wanted to make an impact outside of the sport,” said Blanchard. “We got to get involved in ways such as Christmas celebrations where they would give out toys and presents to kids in orphanages or the less fortunate. Getting involved in things like 3v3 tournaments over there or they had camps I would come to for the kids. I really started enjoying those things and looking forward to those things.”
One specific memory that stood out for Blanchard was when his team went to a Christmas party at an orphanage in Ukraine, giving out jerseys and gifts to the kids.
“There was a little kid named Sasha, I’ll never forget his name,” said Blanchard. “He was following us around and for some reason, he really attached to me and I carried him around and it was funny because they were talking about his future and how being an orphan has been tough for him but with the smile on his face you would never know. I realized kids were resilient and no matter what they go through you can always find a smile on a kids face if you do the right thing and if you treat them the right way. When I saw that it made me think ‘Ok you know what, how can I help kids? How can I help them have that smile?’ Because what he was going through, I couldn’t imagine, but he still had a smile on his face.”
When he got home to Ann Arbor after playing internationally he ran into an old friend in the gym playing basketball. Justin Jennings, a Purdue Boilermaker from 1992-1996, was the Principal at Ypsilanti High.
“It was funny because we had a lot in common, both played overseas, both played Big Ten basketball,” said Blanchard. “He was always asking what I was going to do in the future. And I was always at a different point, ‘I’m going do this or I’m going do that.’ He said, ‘Well if you want to get into education, let me know.” That lead to the opportunity at Ypsilanti, where Blanchard volunteered in 2015.
After a year and a half, a position opened and Blanchard was hired.
“I wanted to get involved at Ypsi because my mom actually worked at Willow Run,” said Blanchard. “She was a teacher at Willow Run and she was big on telling me she wanted me to come back and give back to the community. Willow Run and Ypsi merged together (in 2012) and I was really interested in trying to help the school where my mom taught. Being able to do that while working with Justin Jennings was just an added bonus
Blanchard was looking to take the next step after being an assistant athletic director and coordinator for the past three years. He was looking for a move somewhere already established and built.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I could fit in with the people and the community, somewhere I thought I could be there for a while and become part of the community,” said Blanchard. “That’s something I thought Manchester offered, the opportunity to come in and be embraced.”
Blanchard was well aware of the community aspect Manchester offered. When searching online for opportunities, he recognized Manchester when the name scrolled across his screen.
Blanchard remembers coming to a Manchester football game when he was in high school to see Nick Davis, a running back who went on to play collegiately and in the NFL.
“I wanted to see the best running back in the area, and was impressed by the support of the fans, community and just the whole atmosphere and environment there.”
Blanchard was selected over 52 applicants, with the search committee being made up of former head coach Gall, other coaches and staff members.
“I think just personality wise, I think he’s going be a great fit here,” said Gall on Blanchard’s hiring. “Coming in with some new fresh ideas and being able to still keep some of our traditions and also have a bigger school perspective for a school like us.
Blanchard was officially hired July 1. He is the first new athletic director in 19 years.
“There’s always going to be needs, wants and wishes,” said Blanchard. “I think Wes has done a phenomenal job, especially with the staff. A bunch of great mentors, teachers, and people. I think there’s a great core here right now, I’m just learning from the people.”