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Life of lessons
Benefit to aid teacher fighting cancer

For 17 years, Jeff Blount has devoted himself to the Rockdale County community by serving as a beloved coach and teacher. Now, the 41-year-old is getting back what he has given at a time when he needs it the most. An outpouring of support is flowing to Blount, who is fighting non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Diagnosed in April, Blount has experienced a rollercoaster of good days and bad days, and the love he gets from family and friends keeps him going.

"I pray as hard as I can with everyone," said Blount from his hospital bed at Emory University Hospital. "I want to make it to the other side of this. I just want to go back to doing my life - coaching, teaching and raising my family. The most important thing for me is to go out and coach my little boy one day."

A benefit for Blount, organized by his cousin Kenneth Johnson, will take place on Aug. 16 at the Whistlepost Tavern, 935 Railroad St. in Olde Town Conyers. The benefit, free and open to the public, begins at 6 p.m., with music starting at 7 p.m. Bands playing include a three-piece Southern rock blues band, Mud Bucket (with Johnson on vocals and guitar); an acoustic set by Adam Davila; and an acoustic duo, Six String Gringos, which also includes Johnson. A donation table will be set up for those who wish to make contributions and items will also be raffled off.

"He's adored. Everybody loves Jeff," said Johnson, 27, who was coached in baseball and football from age 5 to 15 by Blount. "His personality is amazing. He's one of those people that when he walks into a room, he lights up the whole room."

A 1985 graduate of Rockdale County High School, Blount earned a degree in education from Valdosta State University and started teaching social studies at Rockdale in the spring of 1992. When Salem High School opened three years later, Blount transferred there and served as the head baseball coach for five years. During his time as coach, the team won 92 ballgames, making it to the quarter finals. He also coached Billy Butler, who is now a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Blount then took a few years off from coaching and earned his master's in education from Georgia College & State University in 2002. For the last four years, he's served as Salem football team's offensive coordinator. During that time, the team has won three regional championships.

"I've been lucky to be a part of that," said Blount.

Blount has continued to teach social studies, and currently instructs ninth-graders at Salem. He said he's always enjoyed teaching children life lessons, whether through sports or in the classroom.

"I tell them don't make mistakes today that will affect the rest of your life," said Blount of his ninth-graders.

When doctors diagnosed Blount with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in April, he underwent chemotherapy at Emory and, though his body first responded to treatment, by June, a tumor under his arm had grown. Blount suffers from T-cell lymphoma, an extremely rare and aggressive form of the disease.

July brought another round of stronger chemotherapy for Blount. Then another complication set in - lymphoma meningitis - which resulted in brain swelling. Doctors have since controlled the lymphoma meningitis and Blount continues to receive chemotherapy.

After chemotherapy, doctors plan to give Blount medication to produce healthy bone stem cells which will be extracted. Radiation of the tumor under his arm will follow. Finally, the healthy bone stem cells will be injected back into Blount in a bone marrow transplant. The hope is that the body will respond and produce even more healthy cells.

"The doctors told me 'it's going to be a life-changing experience for you, but I think you can beat it, but it's going to be tough,'" said Blount.

By Blount's side day and night is Tina Blount, his wife of 12 years. Jeff calls Tina the "biggest trophy he ever received" and he gushes about his three children - stepson Matthew Neisler, 18; son Drew, 9, a fourth-grader at Honey Creek Elementary School; and daughter Megan, 6, a first-grader at Honey Creek.

"He's just the best husband and father," said Tina Blount. "He's very respected in the community. He's a great great man and a great father, and I love him more than anything."

Also visiting him at the hospital is a constant string of well-wishers, some who cook him meals. Another friend updates Blount's blog each day. Friends also organized another recent benefit for Blount held at Glenda's Barbecue in Oxford which netted several thousand dollars. Blount was too ill to attend.

"I just wanted everybody to pray for me, but there's just been this outpouring," said Blount. "It just overwhelms me. When you talk about community, this is a direct example."

All proceeds from the benefit at the Whistlepost will go directly to the Jeff Blount Benefit Fund at the Bank of North Georgia. Those wanting to donate who cannot attend the benefit may send a check payable to the Jeff Blount Fund, c/o Bank of North Georgia, 1981 Highway 138, Conyers, Ga., 30094. For more information, visit www.jeffblount.blogspot.com.

Contact Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: If you go

What: Jeff Blount Benefit

When: Saturday, Aug. 16 at 6 p.m.

Where: Whistlepost Tavern, 935 Railroad Street in Olde Town Conyers

Cost: Event is free. Donations will be taken. Visit www.jeffblount.blogspot.com.