WILKES-BARRE — As I sat inside the Disque Funeral Home last Friday night, watching the crowd file in to pay respects to Joseph “Red” Jones, I kept thinking about those days when small towns stood proudly behind their athletic teams.
St. Vincent’s in Plymouth was one of those schools and Red Jones was one of the main reasons the Vinnies were so good for so long.
And in testimony to Red’s coaching greatness, many of his players came back to pay their respects to the guy who taught them to put team before self, to pass before shoot, to box out, to always hustle and to dive for every loose ball. This was Red’s recipe for winning and win he did — 120 victories against 27 losses at St. Vincent’s from 1963 to 1970, including four league championships and four league sportsmanship awards.
Whenever I saw Red and had the chance to talk with him, he always asked if I had seen or heard from any of “his boys.” The young men that played for Red Jones meant everything to this coach. And the players, well, they will always remember the guy that helped mold them into solid human beings.
That’s what was so cool about last Friday at Red’s wake and then the next day at his funeral. As sad as it was to say goodbye to Red, you could feel that Red Jones will never truly die — his memory, his teachings, his example will live on in the players he coached, the people he helped and the friends and family that knew him best.
And that ain’t no double talk.
Back in my day, high school basketball was so popular, it would consume a town. It happened in Plymouth in 1965-66. The Shawnee Indians won the Wyoming Valley Conference and they were crowned District 2 champs. The town threw us a big party at the Shawnee Theater. The Plymouth Lettermen’s Club gave us a dinner and we got our picture in the newspaper. We were huge, to use a now term.
And in the same town, the Vinnies of St. Vincent were just as big. They were winning title after title in the Catholic League and they had a following of equal proportion to the Shawnee Indians. Plymouth was a small town with two very big basketball teams, each with a big following.
The red and black of Plymouth and the blue and white of St. Vincent’s — those color combinations could be seen everywhere.
When I think about those days, I think of Plymouth and Richie Davis at center, Hank Gabriel at forward, Mike Makos, Fred Miller, Jack Shaw, Eddie Mikus, Butch Duhoski, Wayne Thomas, Ken Savage, Ron Brown, Dave Steever and me. And Coach Joe Evan, assisted by George Morgan and John “Snoggy” Mergo. Now that was a team.
And the Vinnies had guys like Stanley Simonds, Tom Kennedy, Neil Brazitis, Frank Brennan, Joe Hogan, Steve and John Rosick, Jim Ricci, Len Jago, Leon Sobolefski, Mike Shusta, Jack Ziegler and many more. The Vinnies of 1957, when Coach Evan was at the helm, won a state title with Bobby Mullery & Co. Small-town team, big-time results.
That’s why it was so good to see all of Red’s boys walk through the door, stand in line, shake hands and hug and weep at Red’s casket. Each of the former players know what Red did for them. They realize how he made them better. They all know that they were lucky to have had Red Jones in their lives.
So as we listened to Deacon Jack Ziegler, Red’s former player, deliver a beautiful homily that highlighted Red’s life as an example for all of us, we could still hear him yelling on the sideline. Red would scream to box out or dive for the ball or pass the ball. He would demand hustle. He insisted on desire.
Back then, his boys didn’t know that Red’s demands went beyond the basketball games and beyond the practice sessions. Red’s lessons were life lessons. The discipline he taught and demanded were to stay with everyone that knew him for all their lives.
Red Jones was more than a coach, more than a public servant, more than a father.
Red Jones was a role model.
Long live Joseph “Red” Jones.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]