Putting together not just one, but two outstanding sports seasons, Santa Fe’s Josh Blankenship was the overwhelming choice of the Galveston County community for 2017-18 boys athlete of the year.
Blankenship ran away with the fans’ poll, which was conducted at galvnews.com from July 1 until final numbers were collected 4 p.m. Saturday.
Blankenship’s 1,364 votes were 963 more than the next highest vote-getter — Dickinson football and track standout Chris Welch, who totaled 401 votes.
This year’s vote marks the second consecutive Galveston County boys athlete of the year win for Blankenship, and this time it’s a complete clean sweep, as he also received the official vote of The Daily News’ sports department for his senior season.
What may cement Blankenship’s legacy at Santa Fe most, though, is the decision he and his teammates made to carry on with their playoff baseball game the day after the May 18 mass shooting at Santa Fe High School, in which eight of their classmates and two of their teachers were killed. Thirteen others were wounded in the shooting, including Blankenship’s teammates Rome Shubert and Trenton Beazley.
“As we were getting off the charter bus, we had two or three video guys videoing the whole time,” Blankenship said. “Warming up in the bullpen, we couldn’t even warm up without seven cameras being in our face. Playing in it was hard, I remember in my first at-bat, two fastballs go right down the middle, and I just watched them. I couldn’t even swing the bat. I wasn’t nervous about the crowd, but everything just hit me when I saw the crowd.”
Despite the distractions, Blankenship and his teammates felt it was an important part of the Santa Fe community’s healing process to proceed with the game.
“It was definitely hard but seeing our community back us up was awesome,” Blankenship said. “That was a lot of the reason why we said ‘yes’ (to playing the game) because we knew we’d have a lot of fans out there, and for them to bounce back, they needed something instead of sitting at their house dwelling.”
One of the teachers, Cynthia Tisdale, killed in the shooting was the grandmother of Blankenship’s girlfriend Bailey Tisdale, so Blankenship carried a little extra heaviness near his heart — literally and figuratively — during the game, as he wore a ring belonging to Cynthia Tisdale hanging on a necklace underneath his jersey.
“She wanted me to wear it for that last game, so I was wearing that,” Blankenship said.
In the fall, Blankenship was an important part of a much improved Indians football team, playing tight end in the team’s spread offense. Blankenship recorded 47 receptions for 611 yards and was a particularly effective asset in the red zone, as he grabbed a team-high seven touchdown receptions. After football season ended, Blankenship was named to the first team in both the all-county and all-district awards.
“I felt like I was the red zone guy with a couple trick plays here and there,” Blankenship said. “I felt like our quarterback trusted me enough to throw the ball to me, and I was going to help him out as much as I could.”
Blankenship was even more successful as the anchor of the Indians’ baseball team’s lineup in the spring. En route to leading Santa Fe to its first outright district championship since 2001 and a solid playoff run, Blankenship recorded a .426 batting average and 29 runs batted in, and his success rubbed off on his teammates as he further embraced a mentorship role on the team.
“I felt like that if I wasn’t hitting, and I was down on myself that they were going to be the same way,” Blankenship said. “I felt like if I started the game off with high energy, they were going to have high energy and were just going to follow.
“Coming into this season, I knew that we were going to have a lot of young guys, but I know that young guys like to fight; they’ve got to fight for a spot and are always earning something,” Blankenship added. “So, I knew that we were going to have a lot of fight and a lot of heart.”
Blankenship’s baseball season earned him all-state, first team all-county and District 23-5A most valuable player postseason honors.
Blankenship will continue his athletic and academic career on a baseball scholarship at North Central Texas College in Gainesville.