Sam Blackman, Class of 1956, was among the most versatile Green Wave athletes in school history, earning 13 varsity letters from five different sports.
During the autumn season, he teamed with ace cross country runner Ed McKenzie to form a potent 1-2 punch for coach Russell Devin and achieve a Housatonic Valley Schoolmen’s League title and state prominence.
After playing “sparingly” for coach Joe Wiser’s six-man football team as a freshman in the fall of 1952, Sam found himself without a sport when football was dropped from the school’s athletic options.
Sam switched his attention to cross country. Fortuitously, it turned out to be a productive decision for both the Green Wave sophomore and a developing harrier program. Sam was consistently one of the top two finishers for coach Devin’s inaugural Green Wave harrier pack, in the process helping the squad to earn qualification for Connecticut’s first state meet.
A pervasive polio epidemic caused the 1954 cross country season to be cancelled.
However, the Green Wave bounced back in style in Sam’s senior campaign in the fall of 1955. Coach Devin’s harriers, captained by Sam and led by the one-two punch of Ed McKenzie and Sam, raced undefeated to an HVSL title. They climaxed the season by finishing first among 22 of the state’s best teams at UConn in what proved to be a forerunner to the state open meet.
Come wintertime, Sam was a prolific scorer and twice all-HVSL for coach Wiser’s basketball quintet, averaging 16.8 points per game as a junior and 20.2 as a senior.
Team success was more elusive for Sam on the hardcourt than in cross country, but his talents helped the Green Wave to hover just above or around .500 each season.
Among Sam’s individual game highlights as a senior was a 25-point effort during a season-opening, 43-32 win over Woodbury. That game was noteworthy as the first NMHS game played at the brand-new John Pettibone School gym, which was to serve as the Green Wave’s home court until a new high school was opened for the 1962-63 school year.
Sam reached his scoring peak on Jan. 27, 1956 with a 37-point explosion to help the Green Wave rout arch-rival Washington, 72-48. That standard broke Dick Volinski’s three-year-old school record of 36 point and was to stand until fellow NMHS AHOF inductee Howard “Pete” Pease scored 40 points vs. Ridgefield during the 1962 season.
Sam found time for three seasons of indoor track & field, excelling as a runner at various distances and capping his efforts in the state meet as a senior with second place in the long jump with a leap of more than 19 feet.
During an era when it was permitted, Sam competed in the spring for both coach Devin’s track team and coach Wiser’s baseball team. He likely is one of the very few athletes who could claim to have been coached during the same season by coach Wiser and coach Devin, both iconic figures in Green Wave sports history.
Admittedly “not much of a hitter,” Sam brought good defense and leadership as the senior catcher on a diamond squad that played its way to the HVSL championship game.
Sam shone in track & field, providing first places in various meets in the 100, 220, 440, as anchor for the 4 x 220 relay and in the broad jump. His victory in the 440-yard run as a senior helped the Green Wave win the HVSL meet title at Canterbury School.
Sam climaxed his high school sports career with fourth place in the state 440.
A gifted student who went on to a distinguished career in physics, Sam didn’t let his love for athletics go unheeded during his college years. He played freshman football and basketball at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and basketball and track & field at the University of Hawaii before settling in California to raise a family and enjoy a long career with Raytheon.