EMORY, Va. - It started with a dream, or more specifically, a wish - to be a coach in the National Football League. Yet Jack Bolton, an 11-year old from Davidson, North Carolina, was faced with obstacles that many believed would keep that dream of roaming the sidelines from coming true.
Jack is in a wheelchair, but that hasn't stopped his love for the game of football and his goal to be a coach. Jack traces his desire to coach football back to first grade. His classmates would play football at recess, and while Jack couldn't participate in the traditional manner, he found his way to be involved.
"I would set up plays and tell them what to do, sometimes I would referee," commented Jack.
John Bolton, Jack's father, recalls the same story. "He knew who was fast and who was big, and he would line up the teams. He had a wristband with plays drawn up and would get the kids to run them. I asked 'do they really run them?' to which he replied, 'Well they get confused sometimes.' He sees coaching as a way to literally be on the field and involved in the sport that he loves, even though he can't be in the game."
The Boltons received a Make-A-Wish three years ago and Jack spent a day coaching with the Carolina Panthers when he was eight. But unlike many Make-A-Wish experiences, this day has translated into a lasting relationship with the 2015 NFC Champions.
"Jack has maintained contact with the Panthers and Coach (Ron) Rivera since that day," commented the elder Bolton. "He writes them a couple of times a year to offer a few words of encouragement and Coach Rivera responds with a personal note to Jack."
After coaching with the Panthers, Jack made a deal with his parents that should Carolina reach the Super Bowl, the Boltons would be in attendance. Flash forward to February 2016 and Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California. Arriving as soon as the gates opened to watch the team buses pull in, Jack was approached by an Emory & Henry alumnus who had followed his original Make-A-Wish. A photo opportunity turned into a conversation about Jack pursuing his coaching dream. One quick phone call later, the Wasps were on board.
Emory & Henry and Southwest Virginia have the privilege of boasting one of the premier kicking coaches in the game of football in Doug Blevins. It just so happens, that Coach Blevins is also in a wheelchair. However, that has not stopped him from spending years on the sidelines of the NFL with Jimmy Johnson's Miami Dolphins and serving as a personal coach to many of the games preeminent names in kicking in addition to working on the E&H football staff.
A conference call between the Boltons, Emory & Henry Head Coach Curt Newsome, Blevins and others set the stage for Jack to take the field once again. Plans were made, and Jack spent Friday and Saturday last week with the Wasps in spring practice, shadowing Blevins and learning even more about his passion.
A young man of few words, soaking up everything during his experience on Nicewonder Field, Jack expressed his gratitude with the maturity of someone years ahead of him. "Being here (at Emory & Henry) is great, it's an amazing opportunity because I want to be a coach and this is going to help me get there."
Blevins was quick to point out that Jack has a big head start on his career, maybe even ahead of some of the Wasps that he came to coach.
"Jack is an intelligent young man and I have been impressed with his level of football knowledge," noted Blevins. "He is a student of the game, and we are trying to take advantage of these opportunities to teach him the nuances of football. I am encouraging him to spend time with the different positions like I did and find one that he likes and then focus on it."
So Emory & Henry fans, don't think your eyes are playing tricks on you this fall if you think Coach Blevins has a shadow some Saturday afternoon. That's Coach Jack, pursuing his dream to coach the sport he loves.
-photos courtey of Brent Treash '01, E&H Public Relations