Column: Boren leaves Montevallo better than he found it

Published 9:48 am Monday, April 1, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

I still remember the first game I covered in-person for the Shelby County Reporter like it was yesterday.

It was a warm Saturday night in August 2020 in Columbiana as Shelby County and Montevallo engaged in a defensive battle, and the Wildcats made a late stop to earn a thrilling 20-18 win over their county rival.

As I stood outside the visiting locker room, a masked Blake Boren emerged. I shortly learned that I wasn’t the only rookie that night as it was Boren’s first game as Montevallo’s head coach.

There, I discovered that the Bulldogs battled a COVID-19 outbreak just to make it to the game where they once again battled their Class 5A rivals in a one-possession game.

“We’re obviously very disappointed in the loss, but I’ve never been prouder of a group of boys,” Boren said after the game. “We’ve been shut down 10 days with COVID. We did not think this game would happen, but now we have something to build off of. We can coach kids who play with effort and tonight we played with effort.”

Not only did the team build off that result, but our professional relationship did as well. The game was the first of four times I covered Montevallo during the 2020 season as the Bulldogs exceeded anyone’s expectations and reached the second round of the Class 4A playoffs.

After each one of the Montevallo games I covered over the last four seasons, I always enjoyed talking with Boren and listening to his honesty and passion for the team and community.

Most recently, I got the chance to cover Montevallo’s senior night against Tarrant this past November.

At the end of the game, with the Bulldogs’ playoff fate still unknown, Boren reflected on the journey he and the senior class went on together, as the class of 2024 was the first coached from freshman year to senior year.

“I remember meeting with them as eighth graders when I first got here right before COVID hit,” Boren said. “I was talking with some of them earlier, and on my phone, I still have the media guide from the very first year. So, we kind of went back and looked at some of the pictures and you just see babies and now you see them, they’re young adults and young men really.  “This is what makes high school football special, because you really see the maturation of a 13, 14-year-old child, and they walk out of your program and they’re a man, and they will go off into the world. This group’s going to be really successful because they’re good kids, they have great character. They’re going to be successful in life.”

As we spoke after Montevallo’s seniors played their final game as Boren and I completed our fourth regular seasons in Shelby County, it felt like the end of an era. I had no idea how true that feeling actually was.

On Thursday, March 21, I received a text from Boren that he had resigned to pursue an opportunity elsewhere. The Tarrant game would be the last time we saw each other at Richard Gilliam Field.

Goodbyes come fairly frequently in my current phase of life. Whether it was graduating from high school just under five years ago and moving eight hours away or the college friends I bid farewell to 11 months ago, saying goodbye is something I’ve had to get used to.

Beyond that, high school sports are all about moving on. Part of the beauty of covering sports at the high school level is saying hello to new faces each year and goodbye to the people you’ve watched for the last four years.

Even though coaches usually come and go less frequently than players, that doesn’t mean I haven’t had to watch some of them leave over my first year.

I was as blindsided as everyone when Jason Hamlin left Calera football over the summer, and three of the four finalists for Shelby County Coach of the Year in Grace Burgess, Kellye Bowen and Carly Cline have moved on since the season ended.

While I was sad to see each of them leave, this one just felt different from the rest as Boren and I had a unique bond going back to our first seasons in the county.

As I look back at the last four years, though, I’d like to think both my life and the city of Montevallo are better for Boren’s time with the Bulldogs.

Not only did Boren have one of the most successful runs of any Montevallo coach, he transformed the culture and helped the players step up as leaders.

As athletic director, he also fiercely lobbied for Montevallo High School to receive upgrades from the county. Year after year as I returned to the school, new projects had finished, including a new gym floor and visiting bleachers and renovations to the concessions stand and bathrooms.

As a result of Boren’s work as a graduate of MHS now in a leadership role at the school, Montevallo is well-positioned to make the leap to Class 5A next year both on and off the field.

The number one rule of journalism is to not play favorites. Looking back at our four years together, while I can confidently say I objectively covered Montevallo and every other school during that time, I was always happy to see the Bulldogs succeed because I knew they had a good man at the helm.

While we are blessed to have many incredible coaches throughout the county, I think the world would be a better place with more Blake Borens coaching. More people invested in the success of their community, building better people and leaders on and off the field and striving to leave the school in a better place than when they found it.

I know that Boren will succeed wherever he ends up because of those traits. And after a unique journey where I witnessed both the start and end of his career at Montevallo, I feel blessed that I was along for the ride, as I’m sure many in the community are as well.