Back to the Future

Panther Legacy Athletes Carry On Tradition Set By Parents In ’90s

By Jerry Durney

It’s a dream many athletes have: being able to one day watch their children put on the uniform they once wore and thrive like they did, watching a new era of fans adore the name that invoked the same cheers years before.

Florida Tech Athletics has three such scenarios playing out right now through baseball player Jason Blackstone, son of former baseball player Jeff Blackstone ’96; volleyball player Josie Keenan, daughter of former basketball players Christine (Ferron) Keenan ’93 and Brian Keenan ’93; and volleyball player Kelly Merz, daughter of former baseball player Mark Merz ’97, ’00 M.S.

Each current athlete’s story has taken a different route: Josie transferred to Florida Tech after a year at Penn State. Jason transferred after a year at Eastern Florida State. Kelly recently concluded her freshman year.

But everyone agrees, they’ve found their ultimate destination.

A path defined, but not dictated.

None of the current scholar-athletes felt they were pushed toward Florida Tech, but they did appreciate the insight their parents could provide about being a Panther.

Jason Blackstone: “I talked to [my dad] a lot to get his ideas on what his experience was like here, and he had nothing but good things to say. So, that kind of made the decision a lot easier. There’s a lot more of a college feel here.”

Kelly Merz: “My dad talked a lot about how he liked to have small classes, where you can pay closer attention and develop a relationship with professors. I definitely feel like that is true, and I really enjoyed that about this school because it is so small, you kind of know everybody. In that way, I can see exactly what my dad was talking about.”

Josie Keenan: “It’s fun whenever my dad comes to campus, and he’ll walk through the quad and say, ‘Oh, this is the same, but it’s so different,’ and I think that’s how I feel with this. I’m the same type of driven but doing different things, like volleyball, athletic communications, orchestra and even a different major. It’s cool comparing our experiences but also creating a new one for myself.”

Former Florida Tech baseball player Jeff Blackstone ’96.
Former Florida Tech baseball player Jeff Blackstone ’96.
Florida Tech baseball player Jason Blackstone, son of Jeff Blackstone ’96.
Florida Tech baseball player Jason Blackstone, son of Jeff Blackstone ’96.

Where everybody knows your name.

Because of the close-knit nature of Panther athletics—then and now—at times, being a legacy athlete comes with recognition.

Jason Blackstone:[Professor Paul] Cosentino has guest speakers come in, and last semester, there were two guest speakers who had played with my dad. I had no idea who they were, but they looked at me and recognized my face just because of my dad. I thought that was pretty cool.”

Josie Keenan: “My first week here, Paulette King [Florida Tech Sports Hall of Fame inductee and teammate of Christine Keenan’s] happened to be in the gym, and she came over and hugged me. She was like, ‘My second daughter!’ and I think it’s cool being able to meet the people who were a part of that.”

Brian Keenan: “The athletic department was a very tight social unit. We didn’t have fraternities, we had each other. Living over in Southgate, that was our spot, and we blended well—all the programs did. I still sense that when I’m there now, when I go back to visit Josie.”

Offering timeless lessons.

While life has brought them to different places and situations, the lessons the student-athletes of the ’90s learned at Florida Tech remain with them today.

Jeff Blackstone: “From a baseball standpoint, it’s a game that demands resilience. So, there’s resilience you take with you from that. From a classroom standpoint, I feel like my education here was top notch. At graduate school, I felt I was extremely well prepared relative to a lot of the other students in the same program.”

Mark Merz: “I think one of the special parts of being a scholar-athlete, particularly in college, and why I choose to recruit a lot of former college athletes into our company, is the fact that you have to learn to juggle so many different things in your personal life to be able to accomplish your goals.”

Former Florida Tech baseball player Mark Merz ’97, ’00 M.S.
Former Florida Tech baseball player Mark Merz ’97, ’00 M.S.
Florida Tech volleyball player Kelly Merz, daughter of Mark Merz ’97, ’00 M.S.
Florida Tech volleyball player Kelly Merz, daughter of Mark Merz ’97, ’00 M.S.

And unbeatable support.

Christine and Brian Keenan had an extra “ball” to juggle: raising their oldest daughter, Nadia, who was born during their junior year. Adding that top priority to an already enormous list of responsibilities as scholar-athletes was, at times, overwhelming. But both credit the support system around campus for helping them meet their academic and athletic demands.

Brian Keenan: “We were able to finish our education on scholarship. We really had a lot of support from teammates and classmates that helped us be able to accomplish our goals.”

Christine Keenan: “If I had a conflict with classes, sometimes, Candee [Zepka] Terry ’93 would be there to babysit. During practice, I would bring Nadia to the trainer’sroom, and [former athletic trainer] Ray Rodriguez would watch her, or she would sit on the sideline, and sometimes, Coach [John] Reynolds would carry her around the court.”

Panther pride is magnified.

Current crimson-and-gray athletes consider their parents’ athletic and career résumés as points of pride and aspiration.

Kelly Merz: “It just motivates me even more because in athletics, it was impressive what he did. But honestly, I’m more impressed with his work ethic. Outside of sports, he worked extremely hard in every aspect of life, and it paid off so well for him. I’m following the exact same path that he did.”

Jason Blackstone: “I was wanting to kind of follow in his footsteps but still do my own thing at the same time. Having a dad like that showed me a lot of things about baseball and life that really shaped me into who I am.”

Josie Keenan: “Once I figured out how awesome my mom was, I could not stop bragging about her. I talk about her all the time. Everything she had to balance—being an engineering major, a baby, a relationship, being a star player on the team. How could you not brag about her?”

Former Florida Tech basketball player Christine (Ferron) Keenan ’93.
Former Florida Tech basketball player Christine (Ferron) Keenan ’93.
Florida Tech volleyball player Josie Keenan, daughter of Christine Keenan ’93 and Brian Keenan ’93.
Florida Tech volleyball player Josie Keenan, daughter of Christine Keenan ’93 and Brian Keenan ’93.
Former Florida Tech basketball player Brian Keenan ’93.
Former Florida Tech basketball player Brian Keenan ’93.

And the legacy continues.

The Panthers of the ’90s agree nothing could quite prepare them for what it’s like to watch their children live out their experience in a Panther uniform.

Jeff Blackstone: “Their first game was at Rollins, and I went over to that one. Seeing them announce the lineups and him taking that spot [at second base], wearing the same number [No. 7] that I wore for four years—not gonna lie, I had to choke back some emotions. That was pretty cool.”

Mark Merz: “I remember touring the locker room, and they had all of their brand-new jerseys and training gear in the lockers. You could see the Merz name above her locker, and she had always worn No. 2 throughout her club and high school career, but she switched her jersey number to four, which was the number I wore in college. So, to see that No. 4 and Merz up there above the locker look like what it was when I was there was really cool.”

Christine Keenan: “When I saw her play, I was so proud of her. Getting here was a journey, and we’re so fortunate that Florida Tech was there for her through it all.”

Cover of the Florida Tech Magazine spring 2023 issue

This piece was featured in the spring 2023 edition of Florida Tech Magazine.

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