It was the end of last October, but in Jay Blossom’s right eye, it was the Fourth of July. “I woke up and it was like a fireworks show was going off in my eye,” Blossom, the Webster Groves boys basketball coach, says. What appeared to be a colorful display was actually a detached retina.
Surgery for a detached retina is no picnic. Once out of the hospital, Blossom had to lay face down for 10 days on a massage table to let his retina heal. He made it through a day before he was on the verge of going stark raving mad. “It’s extremely boring, I listened to a lot of AM sports talk radio,” Blossom, 47, says. “It stunk.”
Eventually his brother in-law wired a television and laid it beneath him so he had something to do that didn’t involve swimming in his own thoughts. Blossom’s mind is a fertile place, especially when it comes to basketball. He always loved the game growing up in the shadow of Mizzou’s campus where his parents taught. He attended Hickman High School but didn’t play ball. Instead, he ran cross country and track. That’s where his talents were as a teenager. It’s where he funneled his competitive spirit. “I just wasn’t very good (at basketball),” Blossom says.
When he graduated from Hickman, he decided to leave home to attend college. He didn’t stray too far as he enrolled at Central Missouri State. He would eventually land a job as a manager for the men’s basketball team, and was given an in-depth basketball education by then-head coach Jim Wooldridge, who also helped Blossom land his first coaching job out of college. After 12 years and stints at Waterloo and Lindbergh as an assistant coach, he was named head coach at Waterloo. After two years, the job at Webster opened up. This season marks his 13th as head coach. “I wanted to coach at the highest level,” Blossom says. “The community involvement and the kids, it’s a really special place. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be.”
In his time at the helm, Blossom has made an impression on the record book. He’s second in career coaching wins with 261. In 2008, he guided Webster to its second state championship and first since 1996. The Statesmen have won the Suburban South Conference 10 consecutive seasons and have won 74 consecutive conference games—the longest such streak in Missouri’s history.
Last season, though, was his most trying as coach because of that retina. After those 10 days on the massage table passed, he was examined. The retina didn’t take and remained detached. He would have two more surgeries in the following six weeks. He remains blind in that eye. Blossom is slated to have a cornea transplant in March and, if all goes well, some of his vision will return.
There were days that Blossom would wallow—days when he would wonder, Why me? It was in those times, however, when he would see how much he does have. Julie, his wife of 19 years, has been such a support, as well as his daughters Danielle, 15, and Gabby, 12. “Some days you just thank the good Lord you have two eyes,” he says. “I’ve been incredibly blessed when I think about it.”
When Blossom did return to coaching, his doctor told him to try and take it easy. Anyone who has seen him coach knows that ‘take it easy’ wouldn’t be the way to describe him. Blossom is fiery, passionate and, on occasion, an exuberant wild man. “When I came back, I was supposed to chill, that lasted about an hour and a half,” Blossom says. “I probably haven’t been the greatest patient.”
He might not make a great patient, but he’s been one incredible basketball coach, husband and father. It doesn’t take 20/20 vision to see that.