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PGC Transformational Coaches for 2024

PGC Transformational Coaches for 2024

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                               Contact: Pat McKee, 317-403-1665

March 26, 2024                                                                     IBCA Director of Special Projects 


Blank, Houston to be recognized by Indiana Basketball Coaches Association

Terre Haute North boys' assistant, Lafayette Jefferson girls' assistant to receive PGC Transformational Coach awards


                 Two Indiana high school coaches will receive special awards from the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association in 2024, it was announced Tuesday (March 26).

                Terre Haute North boys' assistant coach Nate Blank and Lafayette Jefferson girls' assistant coach SJ Houston each will be recognized with a Point Guard College/Indiana Transformational Coach Award as presented by the IBCA.

                This is the eighth year for the PGC/Indiana Transformational Coach Awards, which are presented to coaches who have impacted the lives of their players and fellow coaches at their school and within their community. The recipients are coaches who are respected by their players and fellow coaches for their dedication, positive approach and integrity on and off the court. Point Guard College is a corporate partner of the IBCA.

                These awards will be presented during the 2024 IBCA Clinic on April 25-26 at Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville.

                Previous PGC/Indiana Transformational Coach Awards have gone to Gary Cook of North Decatur in 2017; Chris Buggs of Gary West and Adam Dennis of Switzerland County in 2018; Travis Hannah of John Glenn in 2019; RaNae Isaak of Columbus North and Jim Merlie of Speedway in 2020; Steve Bradley of Lawrenceburg and Debbie Smiley of Brownsburg in 2021; Kevin Bradshaw of Eminence and Karl Turk of Cloverdale in 2022; and Kelsey Block of Madison and Chris Willis of Wapahani in 2023.

                Information on Blank and Houston, the 2024 honorees, follows.


Nate Blank, Terre Haute North boys' assistant


            Energy, toughness, passion and selflessness all are terms that have been used to describe Nate Blank throughout his career in basketball as a player and coach.

            The 2007 Indiana All-Star from Terre Haute North needed all of those traits to conquer medical challenges he has faced over the past two seasons while serving as a boys’ basketball assistant coach at his alma mater. Thus, he has been named a winner of the 2024 IBCA/PGC Transformational Coach Award.

            “Nate’s toughness was tested in November 2022 right as the basketball season was beginning,” Terre Haute North head coach Todd Woelfle said in nominating Blank. “He had a medical emergency while at work one day that required an immediate surgery. The surgery was surrounded with uncertainty, anxiety and a long recovery was in store.”

            Blank ended up spending 10 days in the hospital, couldn't eat solid food for a month and experienced another month of home therapy before he could return to relatively normal activities.

            “This was a very difficult time for Coach Blank, his family and our basketball program,” Woelfle recalled. “Still, even though he wasn't physically with us on a daily basis, he continued to watch video, send messages of encouragement and support our guys and basketball program from a distance. He was even made to turn off a game that he was streaming from the hospital because it wasn't good for his health and recovery.”

            Unfortunately, in late October 2023, Blank’s condition required a second surgery due to complications from the first surgery. He again missed significant time away from the team but was able to return to the bench and practice full time in January 2024. Woelfle noted Blank’s contribution to the program.

            “Coach Blank is a role model for all our players and helped guide the team to the first conference title for our school in 50 years,” Woelfle said of a 22-4 season that included a 4-1 mark in Conference Indiana. “It undoubtedly was one of the most successful seasons in recent memory.”

            “He has a passion for the Terre Haute North basketball program that can be matched by few who have played or coached here. He takes pride in everything we do, is reliable when it comes to any practice, team event, scouting trip, off-season summer game or individual workout with players. He clearly has developed trust and rapport with each of them. He checks his ego at the door and wants the best for all our student-athletes both as basketball players and young adults.”

            Beyond his role on the court, Blank has a vital role off the court within the Vigo County School Corporation. He serves as a behavior interventionist coach for the Covered Bridge Special Education District as well as the supervisor for the alternative education program at Terre Haute Boys & Girls Club. In those roles, he works daily with at-risk children, forming relationships with students and their families, while giving them the knowledge and skills to be better people, students and members of their school community.

            “I've seen countless times how Coach Blank has changed the attitude, focus and effort of so many young people in our community by giving them a sense of hope and purpose,” Woelfle said. “He has a unique way of connecting with all students regardless of age, gender or background.”

            A 2007 graduate of Terre Haute North, Blank averaged 19.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists as a senior en route to a total of 1,216 points in his high school career.

            He matriculated to Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., averaging 10.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists over two seasons and earning 2008 Atlantic Sun Conference Freshman of the Year accolades. He then transferred to the University of Indianapolis, averaging 10.8 points and 4.8 rebounds and the team’s mental attitude award as a junior before his senior season ended after nine games because of a knee injury. Nevertheless, he earned Great Lakes Valley Conference all-academic honors that season and completed his bachelor’s degree in 2011.

            Blank then returned to his hometown and began coaching at Terre Haute North in 2011-12, working with the Patriots’ program in 11 of the past 13 seasons. He has worked in the Covered Bridge program for 12 years, serving in a leadership role the past nine years.

            Blank and his wife, Leslie, have one daughter – Eleanor, 7.


SJ Houston, Lafayette Jefferson girls' assistant


           To say that SJ Houston is committed to serve the youth of his community would be a large understatement.

            A girls’ basketball assistant coach at Lafayette Jefferson, Houston has been a part of Bronchos’ athletics for 22 of the past 24 years as a player, coach or youth program director. More recently, Houston also has served the community as a teacher, foster parent and adoptive parent.

            In recognition of all those efforts, Houston has been selected as a winner of the 2024 IBCA/PGC Transformational Coach Award.

            “SJ is an assistant varsity basketball coach, a Family and Consumer Science teacher and the face of our boys’ and girls’ youth basketball programs,” Jeff girls’ varsity coach Jenna Sullivan said in nominating Houston. “He picks up players for practice on the weekends when they don't have rides, and he takes them home from games when their parents cannot attend.

            “SJ also provides our high school players a safe space to go during the school day, a trustworthy ear to confide in and a rational voice when they struggle in practice. SJ was an integral part in creating a school-based basketball team and schedule for our fifth- and sixth-grade teams. He runs tryouts for boys and girls in Grades 3-8 and selects coaches for every team. There is never an out-of-season weekend that he is not in the gym cheering on our young teams or filling in for a coach for a few games.”

            Houston also had a pivotal role in forming an arrangement with a local basketball facility that provided Jeff youth teams the privilege of playing in its spring, summer, fall and winter leagues at no cost. A significant number of players in the Jeff community come from low-income and/or single-parent households. The agreement with the facility is what allows 90 percent of the youth players, boys and girls, to be able to play organized basketball.

            Houston started coaching as a Lafayette Jeff girls’ assistant to Jan Conner in 2006-07. He began coaching in the Jeff boys’ youth program starting in 2014-15 and became the youth program’s director in 2019. In 2020-21, Houston was the girls’ interim varsity coach after former coach Andy Baker departed early that season, also expanding the youth program that year to include boys and girls in a single comprehensive entity.

            After Sullivan was hired as the girls’ permanent varsity coach for 2021-22, Houston stayed with the high school girls’ program to help make for a smooth transition.

            “SJ interviewed for the open position in the spring of 2022 and despite the letdown of not getting the job, he was as enthusiastic and helpful as possible when I started my time with the team,” Sullivan said. “A number of the girls wanted to see him get the (varsity) position and were disappointed when I was brought in.

            “He advised them to give ‘us’ a chance as a staff to be the type of coaches they needed. At a time where he could have chosen to be angry and bitter, he chose to unite our team. We would have been in a terrible place without him.”

            Beyond his contributions in basketball and the classroom, Houston’s biggest impact in the community may be through the foster care that he and his wife, Christine, provide. They have fostered 19 children over the years and the couple ultimately has adopted four of those children – Avery, 14; Cooper, 13; Ellis, 9; and Beckett 8.

            “In the past two years, they have brought two more incredibly lucky (foster) babies into their home, both of whom have since been reunited with their biological parents,” Sullivan said. “You will often still see baby Poppy with SJ or Christine. They have crafted a beautiful friendship with Poppy’s biological mother and participate in her birthday parties, provide child care when she needs it, references for housing or anything in general that they can do to help the biological mom and Poppy live a comfortable and safe life.”

            A 2004 graduate and four-year varsity basketball player at Jeff, Houston went on to play two seasons at Parkland College in Illinois while earning an associate’s degree in education. He then returned to Lafayette, earned a bachelor’s degree in management from Purdue in 2009 and added a master’s degree in education from Purdue in 2020.



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