Decision to focus on track — and not basketball — helped Argenta-Oreana's Kandie Bloch-Jones find her high jumping niche and eventually a scholarship to the University of Illinois.
ARGENTA — This is a feel-good Mother’s Day story.
It becomes that because a daughter — a teenage daughter — listened to the advice of her mother.
The result will eventually add up to a savings of thousands of dollars for the family.
It wasn’t a given that Kandie Bloch-Jones would not only listen, but also heed the words of her mother, Katie Bloch.
After all, Mom said, “I can’t get her to do a whole lot around the house.”
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Little more than a year ago, the high school basketball season had ended.
Bloch-Jones had committed to playing with a travel team, the Springfield Predators, that would also include her first cousin, Sydney Bloch, from Edwardsville’s Class 4A state runner-up team.
It was an experience that the girls — neighbors in rural Oreana until fourth grade — were thrilled to pursue. Both girls looked at the AAU team as a way to increase their exposure and help them land a college basketball scholarship.
Kandie Bloch-Jones’ passion for basketball was so great she was willing to stop competing in other sports. In track, she had been a two-time state-placer in the high jump, finishing third in Class 1A as a freshman and fourth as a sophomore.
As her junior season drew nearer, her feelings were changing.
“I didn’t want to do track,” she said. “My mentality was to focus on basketball. I wanted to do everything I could to get noticed.”
Even as a freshman at A-O, Bloch-Jones wasn’t full time with track. She divided her time between jumping and playing outfield for the softball team.
“I enjoyed softball more,” she said, “but I stood out more in track. I decided to stick with the one I was best at.”
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Mom has nothing against basketball, but she cautioned her daughter not to make a hasty decision.
“I pep-talked her,” Katie Bloch said. “I told her it would keep her in shape for basketball. I said, ‘You never know what it might bring.’ ”
Kandie Bloch-Jones — still 16 when the track season started her junior year — decided on the day of the orientation meeting for track at Argenta-Oreana to stick with it.
She didn’t imagine then what that decision would mean.
Bloch-Jones won the high jump in every event she entered last year, including the Class 1A state meet where her winning leap (5 feet, 10 inches) was higher than either the Class 2A or Class 3A champions.
The topper was that a month into the AAU basketball season, she came down with mononucleosis and the opportunity for college coaches to see her play basketball last summer dwindled rapidly.
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As a senior, Bloch-Jones had another banner high school season in basketball.
The two-time All-Area first-teamer averaged a double-double for her fourth varsity season. She became the third girl in Macon County history to eclipse the 2,000-point mark for a career.
When the letters and calls from college coaches were primarily for track, however, she accepted what would be her reality.
“I was hoping to get a scholarship for basketball, but I knew it probably wouldn’t happen,” Bloch-Jones said.
During the basketball season, she accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Illinois. For track. Her decision to stay with the sport will ultimately save her family thousands of dollars in tuition and fees.
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Cindy Fitzgerald has been Argenta-Oreana’s girls’ track head coach for 31 years.
She has coached Division I scholarship athletes before, notably Terri Abraham (Ball State) and Bloch-Jones’ aunt, Karen Bloch, who went on to play basketball at Western Illinois.
Fitzgerald said her strength as a coach varies from season to season.
“When I have good hurdlers, I’m a good hurdles coach,” she said. “When I have good relays, I’m a good relays coach.”
And when she has an outstanding high jumper?
“I’ve gone as far (with Kandie) as my knowledge will go,” she said.
To help her athlete improve, Fitzgerald had to expand her knowledge.
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Mattoon’s Bob James is a recognizable figure at area track meets. “Every time there’s a track meet, I go,” James said.
He volunteers to assist with the high jump and has worked the state meets for more than a decade.
“I’ve always liked that event,” said James, whose job prevented him from participating in track and field as a high school student.
He and Fitzgerald talked and the veteran A-O coach said, “he changed my thought process and because he changed mine, I changed hers. I needed that nudge to have someone say, ‘she’s more than good. She may be elite.’ ”
In particular, Fitzgerald began videotaping Bloch-Jones on an iPad. “That gave immediate feedback and showed what she can do to change it,” Fitzgerald said.
“She has gotten way more serious about it.”
Bloch-Jones will jump today in the 32nd News-Gazette Honor Roll Meet at the UI Track. Field events start at 5 p.m.
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James, who has distributed instructional DVDs on the high jump “for years,” he said, downplays his role in Bloch-Jones’ rise to the top of the state podium.
“She is one of those special athletes who comes around and who makes everybody stand up and pay attention,” he said. “Everybody can see Kandie had so much talent and was such a good athlete.
“Most schools only have one coach. A lot of athletes don’t have anybody to coach them in the high jump. I didn’t do much. This is all Kandie. She is that good as an athlete.”
James likes the attitude he sees in Bloch-Jones, too.
“Girls like Kandie are not just there for themselves,” he said. “She’s out there cheering other girls on. That’s what it’s all about.”
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Earlier this season, Bloch-Jones cleared an all-time area-best 5 feet, 11 inches at the Arthur Invitational. It was the best mark in the nation at the time and currently ranks among the top five.
Her goal is to clear 6 feet, which she hasn’t officially done yet.
Fitzgerald has no doubts the height is within her reach.
“She jumped 5-11, which was a 6-foot jump (based on how much she cleared the bar),” Fitzgerald said. “I know her 5-10 (last year at state) was over 6.”
For Bloch-Jones, the challenge ahead is not much different than when she took up the high jump as a seventh-grader on an A-O junior high team coached by Heidi Trendler.
“The first time, I was kind of scared to go over the bar backwards,” Bloch-Jones said. “When I got that fear out of my head and didn’t think about it, I was fine.
“The first time I cleared 4-4 in middle school, I was so happy.”
And now, as she seeks 6 feet, she realizes, “I freak myself out,” thinking about the height.
One thing in her favor, Fitzgerald said, is “I’ve never seen Kandie lose her composure.”
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In the future, her upside is tremendous. Bloch-Jones has never been involved in a weight lifting program. At the UI, she will have a coach who works with field-event athletes (Mike Erb).
Fitzgerald said Bloch-Jones made the right choice.
“I care about the kids,” she said. “She’s like one of my own.
“I didn’t want her to just go somewhere. I wanted her to go somewhere she could succeed. When she gets on the big stage, she is way more focused. She’s a gamer.”
Her mind-set now — three days before she prepares to defend her state title — is on track and field and how far it can take her.
“I have a lot of goals now,” she said. “I want to beat the (UI) record (6-1) by the time I graduate. I’d like to go to the Olympics. When I have my mind set on something, I try my best to get it done.”
If the Olympics happens, she might have a familiar face close by. Her aunt, Karen Bloch, has been a trainer in water polo at the last two Olympic Games.
“I recently gave up working with USA Water Polo to pursue my sports medicine practice,” said Karen Bloch, a chiropractor in California, “but I would gladly attend the next Olympics if Kandie made the team.
“I know how much untapped athletic potential my niece has and that she has a bright future in track and field. Words can’t explain how impressed I am with her perseverance and drive in her athletic endeavors.”
It all comes back to a Mom who had the foresight to insist that her daughter not have a shortsighted vision about her future in sports. Any day is a good one to reinforce that story.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high-school related column throughout the school year. He can be reached by phone at 217-351-5232, by fax at 217-373-7401 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow him on twitter @fredkroner.