E.A. Sports Today

Sacrifice a blessing for Dunn

Family moved to help Jacksonville outside hitter fulfill her dream

Jacksonville outside hitter Blessing Dunn warms up before Saturday's Class 4A North Super Regional final against Danville.

Jacksonville outside hitter Blessing Dunn warms up before Saturday’s Class 4A North Super Regional final against Danville.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – Behind every successful athlete there is a loving and supportive family willing to do anything to ensure their player has every chance for success. It might be getting up before dawn to drive them to practice, knocking off a couple hours early from work to attend the big game or rearranging the family vacation to accommodate a camp.

As appreciated as those efforts become, they seem mere inconveniences compared to the sacrifice Blessing Dunn’s family made to give their daughter the opportunity to be the best volleyball player she could be and take her game to the next level. They picked up everything, packed up the house and moved.

That was two years ago. The upshot of it was Blessing’s career blossomed. She developed into the top player in the county, one of the top players in the state, and college offers began pouring into her mailbox. Now, she’s headed to the University of New Orleans on a volleyball scholarship.

Wednesday morning she leads the third-ranked Golden Eagles (38-9) into the Class 4A state tournament at Birmingham’s CrossPlex against UMS-Wright, three wins away from a second straight state championship.

“I was thinking about a week ago how most parents wouldn’t do that,” the athletic senior outside hitter said. “With them doing that and the opportunities I’ve been given, I had to make sure I took it and succeed in it. It got me focused in everything.

“When I verbally committed I sat there and was thanking them so much. They were like thank you for taking it there. I could’ve just failed easily — there were a lot of trials — but it was the best thing going through it. It’s truly a blessing when you think about it. It’s amazing all that’s happened because of this. It’s not an easy process, but it’s worth it in the end.”

Marcus Dunn recognized her daughter’s potential early on, when she was playing at Sacred Heart, a successful but small Class 1A program. There were absolutely no issues with the school or the team and she could have stayed there and just as easily flourished, but others in the sport recognized her potential, too, and suggested the family go bigger to introduce Blessing to deeper competition and more exposure.

Because of their established responsibilities locally – Marcus is a pastor of Kingdom Place Ministries and the family runs two small businesses — they wanted to stay in the county, although if a farther move was necessary they were willing to take it. They ultimately decided Jacksonville was the place they ought to be, so they moved out of their spacious home in the Edgefield Farm subdivision of Anniston and into a cozy two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in their new adopted community, much to the surprise of their friends and neighbors.

“When we had our children my wife and I said we were going to make every sacrifice we have to to send them to college,” Marcus said. “We wanted to make sure we provided everything our kids needed to be able to achieve their highest goals.

“We did that with our two sons and they both graduated from college. We want to give our daughter the same opportunity, not just to get a good education but to play a sport she enjoys. It’s just a blessing she gets to do both.”

Actually, going to public school was Blessing’s idea and volleyball, she said, was only a small part of the equation. The fact Jacksonville had a strong program – this is its 11th straight trip to the state tournament – was a bonus.

Blessing called the transition to her new school an “eye-opener.” The biggest difference, she said, was all the people in the hallways, but it wasn’t difficult for her to make friends.

“Once we got there it was like she found a home and a place she really fit in,” Marcus said.

Golden Eagles coach David Clark remembers the day he got the first call about Dunn’s interest in coming to Jacksonville.

He was in the bleachers watching his son play in a travel team baseball tournament. The number that flashed across the caller ID was unfamiliar to him and he usually doesn’t answer numbers he doesn’t recognize, so he let it go to voicemail.

A few minutes later another, more familiar, number came through. Clark thought the conversation with the father of Golden Eagles’ Cincinnati Reds draftee Shed Long was going to be about baseball, but instead he told Clark to expect a call from Dunn’s dad.

“To be absolutely honest, I didn’t know who Blessing was, I really didn’t,” Clark said. “We didn’t play Sacred Heart; they weren’t on our schedule. I didn’t see them in the County (Tournament). I just really didn’t know. They felt like she didn’t need to play 1A and needed to play in a higher classification so it would help her in the future.

“I think they just really wanted to do what was the best thing for Blessing in their opinion. They were willing to do whatever.”

Clark hears about potential move-ins all the time, but prudently pays little attention to the rumblings until the player is actually seated in a Jacksonville classroom. A lot had to be done and confirmed before Dunn-to-Jacksonville could become a reality and with all that went into the move she didn’t any competitive contact with her new team until basically the first day of school.

But it was like she was there all along.

“The neat thing, if you spent any time with Blessing, is she’s real easy to like,” Clark said. “She gets along and she fit right in. That’s always a concern – where’s she going to fit, how she’s going to fit; I didn’t really know Blessing. Once I saw her personality and the kids really took to her, it’s really like she’s been there longer than that for us.”

In 22 years coaching, Clark can count on a few fingers the number of move-ins who actually had what he called a “big impact” on the program. Dunn is one of them.

“I think it was destiny,” Blessing’s mother Pam said. “We knew she wanted to play on the collegiate level, so we knew we had to position her to get that exposure. We have no regrets. We would do it all over again. It was a prayer answered. It really was.”

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer of East Alabama Sports Today. To comment on this story or suggest future story ideas, he can be reached at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and followed on Twitter at @easportstoday1.

Class 4A Volleyball
At CrossPlex, Birmingham

Wednesday’s Matches
St. James (26-14) vs. Brooks (31-18), 11 a.m.
Jacksonville (38-9) vs. UMS-Wright (25-18), 11 a.m.
Trinity (28-12) vs. Deshler (48-7), 12:30 p.m.
Danville (48-11) vs. Straughn (26-20), 12:30 p.m.

Final Four
St. James-Brooks winner vs. Jacksonville-UMS Wright winner, 4:30 p.m.
Trinity-Deshler winner vs. Danville-Straughn winner, 4:30 p.m.

Championship Match
Thursday, 6 p.m.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login