By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Since officially opening his office on June 1, Gadsden State’s new athletic director and baseball coach has remained in the fast lane with few downshifts and even less pit stops.
“You’ve got to hit the ground running at full speed,” said Blake Lewis, who is currently on the recruiting trail for his first GSCC baseball team. “Ideally, we’re trying to focus on the northeast region of the state and do our due diligence before branching out.”
Lewis believes that the first thing that needs to be done is making the locals aware that baseball, softball and cross country are back at Gadsden State. The college’s baseball and softball teams were disbanded in 2011 and 2016, respectively, while cross country ended following the 2009 season. The Cardinals were Alabama Community College Conference baseball state champions in 1981 and 1985 and ACCC runner-up in 1982 and 1987. The softball team won the state championship in 1988 and 1989 and were state runners-up in 1986, 1990, 1993, 1998 and 1999. The 1989 team finished third at the NJCAA Tournament.
“There’s been a big enough gap where a lot of folks just don’t remember,” he said. “So we want to shed some light on just how good the programs were, along with how good the school and community are. We want to get back to the way things were and get there as quickly as possible. From a baseball standpoint, I’ve played against and coached against [former Gadsden State baseball coaches] Bill Lockridge and Chick Medders, and they did such a great job. So it’s important for me to do it for those guys as well, because they put in a lot of time and effort into this program.”
Speaking of which, Lewis intends to make the GSCC athletic programs highly visible throughout Gadsden and Etowah County.
“Across the board, I want our student-athletes to have the best possible experience while they’re here, and part of that is to have a visible presence in the local elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. We’d also like to connect our coaches with administrators in the area and build those types of relationships. That type of involvement is crucial for attracting interest in our school, and we’d love to have some of those kids go to Gadsden State because of such interactions.”
Lewis came to Gadsden State from Lawson State in Birmingham, where he served as the college’s head baseball coach, assistant baseball coach and physical education instructor.
A graduate of Pleasant Grove High School, Lewis attended Bevill State Community College from 2001 to 2003, during which he was named to the All-Alabama Community College Conference team. Lewis earned a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology in 2006 from the University of Montevallo and a Master of Physical Education in 2008 from the University of West Alabama, where he also served as a graduate assistant and helped the school’s baseball team earn a Gulf South Conference East divisional title.
In 2009, Lewis was hired as an assistant baseball coach at Lawson State. Within the year, he was named head coach, a position he held until 2012. During his first tenure at Lawson State, Lewis was named the Assistant Coach of the Year by the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association while becoming the all-time winningest head coach in Lawson State history and taking the Cougars to a 12th-place national ranking.
In 2012, Lewis accepted the position of assistant baseball coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Montevallo, where he was instrumental in guiding the Falcons to back-to-back 30-win seasons and two appearances in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship game. Lewis returned to Lawson State in 2015 as the head baseball coach. In the 2020 season, he was named ACCC Co-Coach of the Year and the team won Baseball Academic Team of the Year.
Lewis pointed to the construction of the Gadsden Sports Park at the back end of the campus next to the Coosa River as a big selling point for both the college but the city.
“Both can reap the rewards of that investment. It’s a case of everyone working together and making it a win-win situation for everyone. It’s obvious that people want it, and we’ve gotten the ball rolling to be able to deliver on that.”
The softball team will utilize one of the fields constructed by the City of Gadsden in the Gadsden Sports Park. The baseball team will play on the field at the Gadsden Sports Complex located on Meighan Boulevard. The field is being vacated by the Gadsden City High School baseball team, which will move to a new stadium currently under construction on the GCHS campus.
Lewis shared a few thoughts on why he has a passion for coaching at the junior college level.
“The biggest thing for me is that junior college is not for every, but it is for most players,” he said. “It’s such a pivotal time in a young person’s life, and you get to impact those lives both on and off the field or the court. These kids are in the process of becoming adults, and to be a part of that process is fun and it’s rewarding.”
Lewis also noted that the bond between teammates at the JUCO level is a unique one as compared to a four-year school.
“They’re developing friendships that will last the rest of their lives. On the four-year level, there are a lot of different parts and getting ready for careers. Part of the reason of why the junior college experience is so fun is that a lot of the kids don’t know what they want to do with their lives just yet, and you’re there to watch them grow and help them mature. You shape and mold them, and the next thing you, they’re shaping and molding kids themselves, whether they’re teachers or coaches.”
Asked what his core foundation is as a coach, Lewis said, “Our job as coaches at Gadsden State first and foremost is to help them grow and be better students, better athletes and better people. If we don’t provide the resources to so as much, then we’re not doing our job. We’re not going to be perfect, but we’re going to learn from those experiences in order to get better. Ultimately, it’s about developing a winning mindset and culture and pride in bringing back Gadsden State back to the table. I hate losing more than I like winning, so we want to out the best athletes on the field and on the court and eventually have the other schools say, ‘That’s a team we don’t want to play.’”
This article was supplemented by www.gadsdenstate.edu.