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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

Feb. 10, 2006

At peace in Ames

by Anne Krapfl

Sheila Blalock's journey to Ames began about 18 years ago, when she, her 11-year-old daughter Marsha and 4-year-old son Will started playing "basketball" (it was a tennis ball, actually) in their Boston apartment. The hoop was a reconfigured clothes hanger hooked over a bedroom door. Back then, as now, it was 2-on-1; girls against the boy.

Sheila Blalock

Sheila Blalock is a secretary on campus, college student and mother of two good basketball players, one of whom plays for Iowa State. Photo by Bob Elbert.

In the winter of 2002-03, when Will signed on to play for former Cyclone head men's coach Larry Eustachy, Sheila knew she was headed to Ames, too. It was their agreement.

"When the coaches were recruiting him, Will asked me, 'If I was to go away to school, would you come with me?'" she recalled. "It was my long-time goal to get out of the city and he told me this was my chance to finish school."

Sheila, a single mom who held secretarial jobs and took college-level courses at three or four Boston-area schools while raising two children, jumped at the chance to make a fresh start.

She landed in the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, where she answers phones, works with lots of documents on her computer and prepares mailings. She also works at Hilton as an usher during women's basketball games and some concerts. (The Prince concert at Hilton in April 2004 was the motivation to get the job, she confesses.)

And, yes, she is working on that degree, nights and weekends, in south Ames at a satellite facility of William Penn University, Oskaloosa. Taking one class every five weeks, she's on schedule to finish a bachelor's degree in business in May 2007.

"This is my golden opportunity," she said. "The pace is crazy, starting a new class every five weeks. It's a lot of work, but it's preparing me for my future."

In that future, she'll still be mother to two basketball players, but she also may be a motivational speaker, perhaps even an evangelist.

It's not Boston

Sheila Blalock can't find enough positive things to say about Ames -- even though it took her several months to get used to falling asleep to the quiet. Her apartment in Boston was across the street from a police station and she was accustomed to sirens, fast cars and commotion at any time of the day or night. The proximity helped her feel safe, though.

"It's so peaceful here, and the people are all so nice," she said. "In the city, you're always in a constant battle." She recalls how a darkened streetlight or parking lot light in her part of Boston usually meant trouble. She's learning not to give it a second thought in Ames.

The peacefulness of Ames, she said, takes her back to her childhood. She grew up in Clayton, N.C., a town of about 5,000, 20 minutes southeast of Raleigh. Her mother died when she was 10 years old, and when her oldest brother returned from Vietnam in the early 1970s, he moved his five siblings to Boston. Sheila was 12 years old and the culture shock, she recalls, was staggering.

"There were so many bad kids," she said. "So many kids 'went to the streets,'" a phrase she uses for those who succumb to drugs, crime, pimping and prostitution.

When her children were born, her strategy was two-fold: "a lot of prayer, and I was always there. I went to their schools, I went to all their games, and I was strict. But I'm always there for them."

Marsha played point guard for the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and earned a biology degree. She returned to Boston and is contemplating graduate school. Will appeared headed for trouble at age 15, she said. Sheila discovered he was spending hours -- lots of them -- at the neighborhood gym when she thought he was at school, and she argued hard to convince him not to drop out. For his senior year, he transferred from East Boston High School to Notre Dame Prep, a boarding school in outstate Fitchburg and home to a national Top 10 prep team that year. There, Coach Eustachy came calling.

Basketball mom

Chances are good that the hours of Sheila's days not filled with working one of two jobs or studying, might be filled with basketball. She travels with a small group of friends to Iowa State men's road games within a state or two, and she's a mainstay in the Cyclone parents section at Hilton.

"I'm loud and I do a lot of high fives," she admits. "People ask me if I get nervous for these games and I laugh. I've gone to too many games in my life to get nervous anymore.

"I just say a prayer that no one gets injured," she added.

Her son seems to need from his mom what many college students do: a reality check once in a while, a hug and a good meal. Will and roommate/teammate Curtis Stinson request Sheila's fried chicken the most. ("I bake it sometimes; it's better for them," she confesses.)

The future, beyond earning her bachelor's degree, is an unknown. The Blalocks are hopeful that Will might play professional basketball in a few years. If that happens, he already has told her "he doesn't want to be known as the guy who left his mom in Ames." That suggests another move for Sheila, which is fine.

"I'm driven a lot by my faith, which makes it easier to take risks," she said. "We were sent here for a reason. I got my peace and Will can get what he needs."


"I'm driven a lot by my faith, which makes it easier to take risks."

Sheila Blalock