November 11, 2008 — The University of Virginia Football Alumni Club has become the latest to honor John A. "Jack" Blackburn, who will retire next summer after 23 years as dean of admission.
The 450-member club presented Blackburn with its annual Order of the Crossed Sabres award at a dinner held Thursday in Bryant Hall.
"This award was created to recognize those people who have had an extraordinary impact on the Virginia football program — some of whom, like Jack, are behind the scenes," said Dr. Nelson Yarbrough, president of the club. "But if you think about it, with the exception of the coaches who actually recruit and coach the players, who has a bigger role to play in shaping the make-up of the team?
"Jack has played that role for the past 23 seasons."
Joe Palumbo, a former Cavalier player and member of the College Football Hall of Fame, formally presented the award.
"Jack has done an extraordinary job of balancing the academic standards of the University with the requirements of a successful football program," he said.
Working with head football coaches George Welsh and Al Groh since 1986, Blackburn has overseen the admission of players who graduated at a 72 percent rate — nearly 20 percentage points higher than the national average of 53 percent.
Ninety U.Va. players admitted under Blackburn's watch earned Atlantic Coast Conference All-Academic honors. Three — Tiki Barber, Stephen Phelan and Thomas Burns — won National Football Foundation Student-Athlete Awards, and Burns won the Draddy Award, considered the academic equivalent of the Heisman Trophy that is awarded annually to the top player in the country.
During that time, Cavalier teams have won 62 percent of their games and appeared in 16 postseason bowls.
The award citation reads: "In grateful recognition of your exemplary service, selfless commitment and extraordinary impact on Cavalier Football."
Past Order of the Crossed Sabres honorees include Palumbo; Welsh; former players Rock Weir and the late Carl Smith (and Smith's wife, Hunter) ; former team manger Bob Butcher, who went on to serve on the Board of Visitors; athletic trainer Joe Gieck; and former team physician Dr. Frank McCue.
Last month, Jack Blackburn was given the University's Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor accorded a member of the U.Va. community.