There’s no record kept, but most likely Johnny Jones has seen more Salem High School football games than anyone on the planet. He’s been with the team since the very first year, back in the fall of 1977, and he never misses a game. However, he’s decided that’s he’s 99.99 percent sure this year is his last game roaming the practice field, washing uniforms and fixing equipment, and being on call at the games should his talents be needed.
“I’ve been doing this for so long, it just feels like it’s time,” said Jones. “I’m getting tired of staying up late Thursday and Friday washing the uniforms. I don’t enjoy that. The older you get the tougher it is.”
Jones is a 1974 graduate of Glenvar High School, where he was a member of the football team. He was a personal favorite of Highlander coach Tom Kucer, and when Kucer got the football coaching job at Salem when the school opened, Johnny came aboard.
“I’d helped coach Kucer at Glenvar and when he went to Salem I came with him,” said Jones. “They had a great bunch of guys on that staff.”
For the first six years Johnny was somewhat of a gopher, as in “go for this, go for that.” However, when Willis White was hired in 1983 he put Johnny to work for real.
“When coach White came I started taking care of the equipment and washing the uniforms,” he said.
Through wins and losses, good weather and bad, Johnny is always there. He battled bad knees but never missed a game, and a couple years ago he had three surgeries on his leg.
“Three years ago I had an abscess on the back of my leg,” said Jones. “I could hardly walk but I didn’t know what it was until I finally went to the doctor. I was sick and didn’t even know it.”
“Coach Jones” will be missed at the field house. He enjoys talking to the coaches and they love having him around.
“He’s just someone who loves Salem football,” said Salem coach Stephen Magenbauer, who has known Jones since he was a player for Salem almost 30 years ago. “He’s always there to help others, whether it’s fixing someone’s helmet or whatever. A lot of times we’re the only ones in the field house and we sit around and talk about things other than football. He’s a really great guy.”
You figure in 41 years with the Salem High football team Johnny has gotten to know, literally, thousands of Spartans who have passed through the program.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of kids and it’s all been good,” he said. “I’ll go out somewhere and someone will come up to me and ask, ‘do you remember me?’ I don’t always but I act like I do. There’s been so many of them.”
Johnny will miss the time trading jabs with Chris Tucker, Salem’s long time trainer who is retiring after the school year.
“He’s such a jokester, you have to watch him,” said Jones. “One time at a jayvee game the kids wore tennis shoes to the game and changed into their cleats at the game. He took the tennis shoes and tied them all together, so when one kid grabbed his shoes they all came along. He’s always doing stuff like that.”
Jones wants it to be clear that this was his decision, and his alone.
“I’m not leaving because coach Tucker is retiring, I’d planned on this before,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun and I loved doing this, but it’s just time to go.”
Johnny will leave with at least eight state championship rings, and hopes of a ninth riding on this year’s team. However, he’s not in it for the rings or the glory, he just loves Salem football.
“It’s for the kids, as long as they get their rings I don’t care about me,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of exciting games and they’ve all been pretty special, especially the ones that went right down to the wire. They’re a little tougher on your nerves when you get older.”
Football has kept Johnny young at heart, but his legs tell him a different story. He’ll certainly be hard to replace. Someone else will be washing the uniforms at midnight next fall but there will only ever be one “Coach Jones.”
“We’re going to really miss him,” said Magenbauer. “He’s been a part of this program for a long time.”
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