Athletics played a key role in the lives of Nell and the Rev. William Blackford IV.
Both former University of Louisville athletes – Nell is in the U of L Hall of Fame for women’s basketball and William was the 1990 leader in interceptions when he played Cardinal football – they met in college and have since built a solid life for themselves and their children.
The Blackfords agreed to sit down with me and discuss how they remain a steady and loving couple with a strong presence in their community, but still have time for fun and games.
How did you meet?
The pair met at U of L in the athlete study hall. But it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“I was going to study hall. I saw Nell on the inside. I knocked on the window for her to come open the door. She looked at me and wouldn’t open the door. In fact, she told me to go around. I’m like, “Man, you’re right here; just open the door!” And she wouldn’t get up and open the door. So I had to walk all the way around. That was my first time ever seeing her,” William said.
But Nell really wasn’t trying to give him a hard time.
“I didn’t know the door opened from the inside!” she protested.
Surprisingly, their first encounter progressed into a relationship, mostly because of William’s constant teasing.
“Ever since then, I would just give her the blues on campus,” William said.
“He’d go out of his way to embarrass me and call me out,” Nell added.
Sometimes he’d even tell her, “You know, one day I’m gonna take you out on a date,” just to mess with her, he explained.
Well, one day, Nell actually agreed to go out with him. However, William didn’t realize she was serious.
“I told him I would never go out with him. I had three reasons: No. 1, he was a football player; No. 2, he’s from New York; No. 3, he was part of Omega Psi Phi fraternity … ”
“ … the greatest fraternity around,” William clarified.
So when she actually agreed to a date, William was shocked. He thought she’d given him a 1-800 number, he said. So, not thinking it was an actual date, he took her to run errands – they went to Sam’s Club. But as the date continued, they found an “instant connection,” as William recalled.
“I had come home for Christmas break. We went to see my family in Mississippi and he proposed. I didn’t know he had asked my dad, but he proposed to me there,” Nell recalled.
She played ball in Belgium for one year before coming home to marry and live with William.
How do you make it work on a day-to-day basis?
Like athletics, their relationship seems to come very natural for the two. In fact, they had a hard time putting it to words.
“I never really thought about it,” Nell admitted.
“Yea, I think we make it work by just staying connected with each other: prayer in the morning, kisses and hugs during the day, embracing each other’s mistakes and faults as opportunity for growth,” William said.
How do you divide up household chores?
“There’s no division,” Nell said as they both laughed. “I do all the household chores. He gets to mess up; I get to clean up.”
“I do all the heavy stuff,” William added. “Cutting grass … stuff like that.”
Nell begged to differ. “I do that too. I cut grass.”
But they don’t have many regular places. Always trying out new places and taking adventures with the children, the Blackfords like to keep things exciting.
“I don’t know if there’s any one place that I particularly like to go to. I just like being with her. So it doesn’t matter where we go,” William said. “We go a lot of places. We’ve been on all sorts of adventures.”
They take have taken trips like canoeing and sightseeing in Utah.
What is one thing you always do as a couple?
The Blackfords spend a lot of time meeting and counseling members of their church family at More Than Conquerors Church, where William serves as the pastor.
“We mentor other people and other couples,” she explained. “We’ll do meetings. I wouldn’t call it counseling.”
“It is counseling, but it’s so informal,” William said. “We discovered that there’s a lot of people out there hurting and a lot of people out there struggling. For hurting people, we want to help them heal; and for struggling people, we want to be their strength. We’ll advise and encourage and share our story.”
“We’ve made enough mistakes where we try to help others either come out of their problems or, you know, steer clear of the mistakes we’ve made,” Nell added.
In addition to this kind of counseling, what is some advice you would offer couples – new or old – who desire to walk through life in tandem?
“I would say stay connect, you know, by whatever means the two of you agree upon,” Nell said. “Find a way to stay connected and not allow life to keep you so busy that you become divided.”
“I would say, individually, you have to be real with yourself,” William added. “Acknowledge where you’re weak and seek opportunities to strengthen those particular areas.”
“Pray together and listen,” Nell said.
“Don’t have secrets,” William said.
Nell added, “Don’t tackle the spouse; tackle the problem.”
July 30, 1994.
Jelani, 15, a student at Butler High School; William V “Nickel,” 14, a student at Manual High School; Nila, 10, a student at Collegiate; and Kayden, 1.
Louisville’s West End
Nell works as a social worker while William serves as the pastor of More than Conquerors Church (4600 Cane Run Road), consults for William Covey and has worked with University of Louisville athletics as the football team’s chaplain.
Cats or Cards
“Oh come on now, is that even a question?” William exclaimed. As veteran U of L athletes, both are obviously huge Cards fans.
Category: In Tandem