LENOIR — After 17 seasons as the head coach of the Hibriten High softball team, Jim Blanton’s retirement was announced by athletic director Derek Reeves in a press release on Wednesday evening. Blanton’s successor will be Brittany Morton, who played for him at Hibriten and graduated in 2016.
Currently a math teacher at Hibriten, Morton played collegiately at Salem College. She is also the head coach of the Panthers’ JV volleyball team.
“For the last 17 years I have had the wonderful honor and privilege of being the Hibriten women’s softball coach,” said Blanton in the press release. “After much prayer, pondering, consideration and many discussions with many friends and family, I have decided to retire as the coach of the Hibriten softball team.
“During my tenure as the coach of Hibriten softball, I have been blessed to coach the most amazing young ladies anyone could ever coach,” he added. “I personally wasn’t blessed with my own daughters, but loved each and every one of the girls as my own.”
Blanton also thanked all of his assistant coaches over the years, including Morton, who also played volleyball and basketball at Hibriten in addition to her time as a member of the Panthers’ softball program. Morton earned numerous all-state, all-district, all-conference and all-county awards during her high school playing career, and she also collected several individual accolades at Salem College.
“I couldn’t have done it without the help and dedication of these amazing people,” said Blanton of his assistant coaches. “I would also like to thank the many, many parents who gave of their time and money to help turn our softball field into what it is today. Without them being the driving force and the manual labor for many of the projects, we wouldn’t have the field as we have it today.”
Blanton also credited Kelly Bryant, who was the first fastpitch softball coach at Hibriten, for his support, before offering thanks to his wife, Rachel, and his sons, Ammon and Aaron.
“There is no way I could have done this without their support, encouragement and huge sacrifices,” said Blanton of his family. “Hibriten softball will forever hold a special place in my heart, but I feel now is the time to allow for young, new, energetic coaches to take the program to new heights.
“I am confident that our new head coach will bring new outstanding energy and ideas to the program,” he continued. “I will continue to support the program and our new coach in any way that I can. I know that the softball team will be in the best hands possible and will continue to grow and reach even higher heights.”
Morton takes over after Hibriten finished 15-1 overall and 14-0 in the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference during the COVID-shortened 2021 season. The Panthers reached the second round of the 2A state playoffs before falling to eventual state champion West Stanly, which posted a 20-0 record.
“Hibriten High School is indebted to Coach Blanton for his 17 years of service to our softball program,” said Reeves. “Coach Blanton has brought nothing short of success, discipline and hard work to our program and made our softball program respected and a competitive contender each and every season. We are thankful for Coach Blanton’s time and dedication to our ladies and all the impacts he made in their lives.”
Reeves added that “Hibriten is excited in the direction Coach Morton will take our program and that one of Coach Blanton’s very own will be his successor. ... It is rewarding to have one of our very own coming back to coach for our program.”
Morton is ready to begin her tenure as the Panthers’ head softball coach after serving as an assistant this past spring. She graduated from Salem College in 2020 after batting .436 with 120 hits including 26 doubles, 70 RBIs and 80 runs scored for the Spirits.
“I am truly honored to take over the softball program for Hibriten High School,” said Morton, who ranks in the top 10 in 13 career hitting categories at Salem College. “I am ready to be back at Hibriten and help improve the program each and every day. I can’t wait to work with each of these young ladies and help them grow as players and individuals on and off the field.”
Josh McKinney is the sports editor for the Hickory Daily Record.