Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Stephen Jones, an all-time great Tiger, to be enshrined upon NHS' hoops Wall of Fame
Friday, part of Crosstown Clash festivities, his name joins the rest of the legends
Three years ago I might have written the best story I’ve ever written about Stephen Jones, the man in the picture below watching Norman High take on Edmond Memorial during the 2019-2020 season.
I can write, but Jones was and is a fantastic subject.
His relationship with Tiger basketball began as a student, when he approached NHS boys coach Tony Robinson in the fall of 1985 about becoming one of the team’s managers, fighting through his cerebral palsy, as he continues to this day, to serve the program.
The day I talked to Jones for the story, he told me he’d missed only four NHS home court basketball appointments since that 1985-86 season, telling me which ones and why and the opponent, too. Before I write about him again, which will be soon, I’m going to ask him if he’s missed any more.
I see him every time I’m there so good chance he hasn’t.
Friday, Jones will become the first name added to NHS basketball’s Wall of Fame not belonging to a former player or coach.
He’ll join Don Masters and Denny Price, Dean Blevins and Ron Lynch, Stacy Hansmeyer and Sarah Dimson, Nate and Ian Boylan, Chet Bryan, Max Marquardt and Sherri Coale and a few select others to have propelled Tiger basketball to the highest heights.
Jones hasn’t been there for all of it.
But almost 40 years of it.
So close to the programs, boys and girls, Jones has seven championship rings to show for the relationship, because he doesn’t just watch them play.
He’s a part of it.
One of the all-time greats.
Friday, it becomes official.
(About that story I wrote, see below)
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Stephen Jones, Tigers, have been inseparable for almost 35 years
Stephen Jones remembers.
He remembers when, last season, sitting in the same spot he’s watched Tiger basketball for years and years and from which he watches to this day, fans would walk by and express their thoughts on the Norman High girls.
“They were 7-5, people were walking by, leaving the games … they kept telling me, ‘Stephen, they’re not any good, they’re not going to win anything,’” Jones said. “I said, ‘This team looks OK, give them a chance.’ I said, ‘Let them go to Carl Albert and if they can win the Carl Albert tournament, then I know they can win a state championship.’”
You may know the rest.
The Tigers won the Carl Albert tournament and, true to Jones’ prediction, a Class 6A state championship thereafter.
Still, the best part of the story is not Jones’ clairvoyance, but the conversation he had with Tiger senior Christina Shadid, when she saw him at Carl Albert, there to watch the Tigers open in the 10 a.m. Thursday game.
“She comes up to me and she’s talking to me and she says, ‘We’re going to win the gold ball for you,’” Jones said. “I said, ‘Wait a minute, you win a gold ball because you want to, you win it for your coach, you win it for your school, you don’t win it for me.’
“She said, ‘Well, I listened to you, but we’re still going to win the gold ball for you.’”
They did, and after they did, senior Nyah Henderson presented Jones with the same medal awarded each of the Tigers a few minutes earlier on the court. Henderson also began a line of players thanking him for his support and giving him a hug in his wheelchair.
When it was Shadid’s turn, the embrace lingered, each reminding the other of their conversation that day at Carl Albert.
Jones is a Tiger all the way through.
“They’re not my friends,” he said, “They’re my brothers and my sisters.”
• • •
Thank Tony Robinson.
He was the NHS boys coach when, on Aug. 27, 1985, Jones approached and told him he wanted to be one of the team’s managers.
He got the job and, despite being slowed by cerebral palsy, Jones not only performed the job just fine, but became a permanent member of the program.
Sherri Coale gets an assist.
Jones graduated from NHS in 1988 but continued attending the boys games, supporting the coach who’d brought him into the program, when one day the rookie NHS girls coach, a game or two into the 1989-90 season, approached.
“Hi, my name is Sherri Coale,” she said. “I’m the new coach here and I heard that you may be the best fan in the whole gym and I wonder what it would take for you to start coming to our games.”
Jones told her he’d do it on one condition.
“Just,” he said.
“Win baby,” she said.
You can’t make it up.
Now he was attached to both programs.
Since the day he walked up to Robinson with a request to enlist, Jones, whose memory is so good he recalls 30-year-old conversations down to syllables and commas, has missed four games inside the NHS Gym.
He missed this season’s NHS boys game against Lawton Mac, a seventh-place contest at the Joe Lawson Memorial Invitational so he could watch the Big 12 championship game on television.
He missed a 2 p.m. boys game at the 2011 Norman Invitational Tournament because it was payroll day where his mother, Pearl, worked, and she couldn’t get out early and get him to the gym.
He missed a game in 2010, played on a rare Wednesday, because he was at Lloyd Noble Center watching Coale coach the Oklahoma women.
He missed a game during the 2001-02 season because he had the flu.
From 1985 to 2001, Jones did not miss a game other than a few girls contests he didn’t arrive early enough to watch, yet that ended the day Coale introduced herself.
She knew what she was doing.
“You want the all-in people on your squad in whatever capacity their capacity can be,” she said. “He’s as all-in as anybody I’ve ever known.”
• • •
Jones and the Tigers have been there for each other.
“He’s our historian, he’s our encourager, he’s everything to these girls,” said Michael Neal, present-day NHS girls coach, who skippered them to a state championship last season.
“Whenever they see him, they know they can’t disappoint Stephen because he’s always here, he’s always uplifting.”
There have been times the relationship’s been a lifesaver.
Jones’ father, Dale, was murdered on Sept. 14, 1992, the result of an altercation with another man Jones believes his father was trying to help.
As it happened, the entire NHS athletic program seemed to be there for Jones that school year.
In the fall, NHS won what remains its last state football championship; in the spring Coale won the first of her two titles, before moving on to take over the Sooners; also that spring, coach Gordon Drummond’s boys soccer team took state.
Still, it was Coale’s team that gave Jones the most comfort.
“It helped me through my sadness, where I didn’t go home and just beat my head against the wall, missing my father,” he said. “I was happy when I watched them.”
Jones’ mother died on December 22, 2014.
He reached Coale on the phone.
“I’m going to ruin your day coach Coale,” he said.
Speaking to her, looking out for her, Jones reversed on his original request, and told Coale he couldn’t ask her to speak at his mother’s funeral.
“Don’t take that away from me,” Coale told him.
Since his mother’s passing, Jones typically receives rides to the NHS Gym and Lloyd Noble Center, where his attendance for Sooner women’s games is almost as exemplary as his attendance for Tiger games, from Fred Staker, who he met through Coale’s family.
Yet, when Staker’s not available, it’s often NHS basketball alum Jordan Polski who gives him a lift. Just this season, to get to the McGuinness Classic, NHS principal David Jackson gave him a ride.
Tigers supporting a Tiger.
• • •
Through the years, Jones’ favorite NHS boys player is Cory Cole, the former Oklahoma Christian men’s coach, now an assistant on former NHS girls coach Matilda Mossman’s staff at Tulsa.
Jones' favorite girls player — “that’s easy,” he said — is Stacy Hansmeyer, who played for Coale through 1996, then for Geno Auriemma at Connecticut, winning the 2000 national championship, who then assisted Coale, helping her take OU to the 2002, 2009 and 2010 Final Fours.
Jones only recently learned that his father and Hansmeyer’s father were in the same class at Norman High, graduating in 1960.
He believes the next male Tiger to be enshrined on the NHS Wall of Fame ought to be Ben Peabody, The Oklahoman’s 1992 Big All-City Player of the Year, and the next female should be Sade Morris, who kept the Tiger girls afloat during some lean seasons before excelling at Kansas, where she finished up in 2010.
His favorite NHS boys team was the 1990 squad, coached by Robinson.
“Everybody said they couldn’t win because they were too short,” Jones said. “The tallest player was 6-2.”
They didn’t lose a game.
The 1995-96 girls team has a special place in his heart because, after losing to Indiahoma at a tournament in Wilburton, and finding all four tires to their NHS activity van slashed afterward, Coale’s Tigers crushed their way to their second state title, dismantling Sapulpa 73-35 in the title game.
“They just cruised,” Jones said.
If Cole were taken off the board, Jones said he’d go with the Boylan brothers, Nate and Ian, as his favorites to come out of the boys program and if Hansmeyer were not available, he’d go with all three Selmon sisters, Shannon, Megan and Lauren.
He’s seen it all.
• • •
“Very quickly, you figure out he’s going to be there all the time,” said Doug Tolin, who coached the NHS boys to their last state title in 1999, a squad led by the Boylans. “Good, bad or in-between, he’s behind the kids, the coaches, everybody.”
Jones will talk basketball with you. He’ll talk strengths and weaknesses, even offer critiques of the teams closest to his heart. He sees the game with clear eyes.
Still, in his interactions with the programs, he’s nothing but encouraging.
“He was always so supportive,” Tolin said. “Even when things didn’t go well, he’d say it will be better next time and you don’t always have that.”
There’s a good quote from Robinson, told to sports writer Bob Cramer, the last time Jones was featured in The Transcript, in March of 1988, for his devotion to NHS basketball.
“He’s just like one of the players,” Robinson said. “The kids have kind of dedicated the season to Steve. He’s been with us three years and hasn’t missed a game.”
They didn’t bring home the state title that season, though they did two years later. And almost 30 years after that, Shadid walked up to him and told him the girls would win it for him and they did.
Jones has state championship rings for those two championship seasons and five others, too.
“I think being a Norman Tiger has given him a lot of joy and extended his life exponentially,” Coale said. “But I also think that Stephen being a Norman Tiger has changed the perspective and the commitment of a bunch of players through the years, because they see what he goes through to get to a game and his passion and his support and you can’t help but be affected by it.”
They have given to him.
He has given to them.
Coale is asked if there’s anything else everybody should know about Stephen Jones.
“I’ve never heard him complain,” she said. “He shows up, he does whatever it takes to get to a game, he does his part at the game and he never complains.
“He does his job.”
At 10 this morning, the Tiger girls are back at Carl Albert to begin another three-day tourney run.
Jones will be there.
Of course he will.
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