The night they put Stephen Jones on the wall
Friday night at Norman High he joined the legends between games at the Crosstown Clash
Stephen Jones pumped his left fist.
His name appeared on the orange wall surrounding the NHS Gym’s court and he pumped his fist.
He’d pushed himself to center court with the walker he uses when not on wheels, the tools of a life spent pushing though cerebral palsy.
Already he’d been given a long standing ovation from both sides of Friday night’s Crosstown Clash, two huge student sections and accompanying fans of Norman High and Norman North. Soon, two more cool things would happen.
The NHS student section would break into a chant of “Stephen, Stephen, Stephen …” and the NHS girls, who’d just knocked North off 81-50, would approach one at a time to the folding chair he sat, offering their appreciation and congratulations, a heartfelt scene he first experienced following the program’s 2019 state title a few feet off ORU’s Mabee Center court, about seven weeks after Tiger senior Christina Shadid promised him they’d win the gold ball for him and they did.
He pumped his fist.
On the night he he joined Butch Roberts, Denny Price and Dean Blevins, Sherri Coale, Stacy Hansmeyer and Sarah Dimson and a bunch of other legends, giving it everything he physically had just to propel himself the 50 feet from court’s edge to center, Stephen Jones pumped his fist.
Like an athlete.
• • •
I talked to him before the game.
As he had since I’d last last asked him for a story three years ago, Jones confirmed he’s still missed just four NHS home games since becoming a team manager for coach Tony Robinson’s Tiger boys in 1985.
One a seventh-place game in the 2019 Joe Lawson Memorial Invitational to watch the Big 12 championship game on television.
One nine years earlier, a 2 p.m. start at the Norman Invitational Tournament, because his mother, Pearl, couldn’t get home from work in time to take him.
One in 2010, a rare Wednesday contest, because he went to Lloyd Noble Center to watch Sherri Coale’s Sooner women instead.
One during the 2001-02 season, because he had the flu.
In that same three-year-old story, Coale may have come through not with the best explanation for Jones’ love for his alma mater, that’s just a given, but the explanation for how that love’s led to such amazing and exemplary attendance.
“He does his job,” she said.
Also, before the game, he made sure I knew his championship ring count had jumped from seven to eight, picking one up from the 2020-21 NHS girls, who just like every other Tiger title team to come around the last 38 years considered him one of its own.
He looked sharp in a gray pinstripe suit. It belonged to his father, who died on Sept. 14, 1992.
“He only wore it three times,” Jones said.
He wore the watch his mom wore, before she died on Dec. 22, 2014.
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“I’ve shed a few tears the last few days,” he said, thinking about his parents, who would have loved to see him honored by the programs he’s never quit honoring since approaching Robinson for a job all those years ago.
He told me about getting the call from Norman Public Schools’ athletic director T.D. O’Hara on Monday.
“You’re going on the wall,” O’Hara told him.
“Are you OK?” O’Hara asked.
He was, but stunned.
“It’s like a dream,” Jones said, “and when I wake up they’re going to tell me they’re taking it away.”
Only it’s not a dream and they won’t.
Next to “Joe Simpson,” diagonal from “Anthony Bruner” and below longtime NHS trainer “Russ Schuchman,” the only other non-athlete-nor-coach on the wall, who went up after his tragic Dec. 9, 2021, passing, there is now “Stephen D. Jones,” forever and ever.
The D stands for Dale, both his and his father’s middle name, but he was thinking about each of his parents when he asked for it.
“I said ‘Put it up for both of them.’”
• • •
“Stephen is an inspiration to all of us,” O’Hara said. “Tonight we got to see the power of sports and sometimes it’s not always just about the athletes.”
But Jones is more than that, too.
You couldn’t make him up.
Nobody’d believe it.
Find me an able-bodied fan, of any sport at any level, who finds a way to get themselves where they need to be over and over and over again for almost 40 years.
Not just for the regular Tuesday and Friday contests, but the three games in three days, Thursday through Saturday, tournaments. The games that matter and the games that don’t. The games he knows his team will lose, of which there are none this season, but certainly have been other seasons.
And it’s not like Jones misses the road games either. He’s made his way to the vast, vast majority of them, too.
“This is unreal,” Jones said.
Only it isn’t.
He made it real.
After he left center court, he returned to his familiar spot, near the first door to the court, on your right as you walk into the building, where he now takes in games with former NHS boys coach Wes Clark.
There, he became a one-man receiving line for tens and tens and tens of well wishers, who came out of the crowd to see him.
I came over in the middle of it to ask one or two more questions, trying to make sure I got it all right.
“See ya later,” I told him.
Next time I’m in the gym, of course.
When the Tigers play on their court, Stephen Jones is always home.