EDUCATION

Farewell, Coach Blatch: Longtime Ojus Elementary educator dies just before his retirement

 

Colleagues and former students gathered at Ojus Elementary School in Northeast Miami-Dade Sunday to say goodbye to Coach Gregory Blatch, who taught P.E. for more than three decades.

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cteproff@MiamiHerald.com

When a teacher mistakenly put superglue in her eye instead of contact-lens drops, Coach Gregory Blatch splashed water in her face and stayed until the paramedics arrived.

If strangers came to Ojus Elementary who weren’t supposed to be there, Coach Blatch greeted them with his baseball bat and saw to it that they left immediately.

And if the coach caught a student running through the hallways, he’d be the first to make them turn around and walk properly.

Blatch, who for more than three decades taught physical education to thousands of Northeast Miami-Dade children, was set to retire at the end of the next school year.

He died Thursday at age 61 from a heart attack, leaving his former and current students and colleagues grieving for a member of the Ojus Superstars family.

On Sunday, dozens of people — old and young — gathered at his “home away from home” to celebrate Blatch’s career and honor the man who gave so much to so many.

“This is that retirement party that he doesn’t get,” former student Evan Ross, Class of 2001, said to the dozens who gathered near the basketball court with white balloons, flowers and mementos. Plans were in the works for a bash to recognize Blatch’s 35 years as a teacher in Miami-Dade County.

“We are going to have his celebration, in his honor, in good fashion-style,” said his close friend and colleague Patrenia Dozier-Washington. “He will be with us in spirit.”

Blatch, who was born and raised in Miami, graduated from Central High School, where he played football. He went to Florida A&M University and graduated in 1975 with a degree in science and physical education.

In 1976, he got married and had a daughter, Kristen. He earned a master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University. He stayed with physical education and did not pursue an administrative position because he wanted to be closer to the students, said his wife, Carlotta Blatch.

He joined the school, 18600 W. Dixie Hwy, in the mid-70s as a P.E. coach. Over the years he became more than just a coach. He ran the safety patrol, planned school theme days including Field Day and often sang in the school’s talent show. He also took his patrols to Washington to learn about government.

“He represented who we are, he represented our childhood, our memories, this field,” said Brian Farrell, Class of 1994. “Coach is going to live on forever.”

The students have started a petition to get a portion of West Dixie Highway named in his honor.

For those who came Sunday, the memories of Coach came flooding back. Coach as a mentor. Coach as a father-figure. Coach as a friend.

Tiffany Morhaim remembers being a fifth-grader with a loose tooth on a trip to the nation’s capital.

“It came out and it was bleeding and I was so embarrassed,” said the now 24-year-old. “He said, ‘Don’t worry. You now look like all the presidents.’ He always knew how to make me smile.”

Jeni Ferreira Buchholz said as a parent she was thrilled that her daughter, Kayla Buchholz, had the chance to have the same coach she did.

“He was very good at what he did,” she said.

For some, the thought that Blatch would no longer be there for future generations is heartbreaking.

“I always hoped that my son would be able to have Coach Blatch,” said Jessica Martin, who a few years ago brought her boy to meet him. “Unfortunately that’s not going to happen.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Blatch his survived by brothers Erick and Norman. Services are planned for Friday and Saturday at a time and place to be determined.

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