Jim Jones fought back tears as he stood at the podium during Tuesday’s Mesa Public Schools Governing Board meeting.
He was in the process of thanking his wife, Becky, one of more than a dozen of family members and friends in attendance for the meeting where he was being honored. Jones, the first-ever head football coach at Red Mountain High School who led the Mountain Lions to two state championships in 2000-01, received a plaque honoring not only his legacy as a coach but teacher at the school for 22 years.
Now his name will forever be plastered on the school he dedicated his life to for more than two decades after a 5-0 vote in favor or renaming Red Mountain’s football stadium Jim Jones Field. Becky Jones, who he has been married to for 52 years, was one of the last people he thanked during the meeting.
“My first 32 years of coaching, she never missed a game,” Jones said. “She got sick and then her mother passed away and she missed two games. That’s it. That’s the kind of girl I’m married to.
“And to have those guys here, the ones who sweat and live with me, it was even more awesome. A guy feels kind of guilty because his name is on the wall and the people who are responsible for me don’t get any recognition. That bothers me a little bit but that’s ok.”
The process to rename the stadium after Jones began last spring with former Mesa Public Schools Athletic Director Steve Hogan, who wanted to honor past coaches in the district and reconnect with the community.
Jason Grantham, Red Mountain’s athletic director, worked with Hogan to put the idea in motion. They had initially planned to have the name official and hold the ceremony during the first week of the 2021 season. The Mountain Lions hosted Dobson on their new turf field Friday, Sept. 3. A day earlier, Perry High School in Gilbert hosted Desert Vista. Jones’ son, Preston, is the head coach for the Pumas.
Grantham thought the timing for Preston, who played under his father at Red Mountain, would be perfect for him to attend the ceremony. But the pandemic caused a delay in the process. He now hopes to hold a ceremony in the near future when all of Jones’ family all can attend.
“We are going to try to align that with the field recognition piece,” Grantham said. “It’s important to him to have his family be there. We will make sure when we do it, we will do it right.”
Naming the field after Jones is a special opportunity for Grantham. Before he became the athletic director at Red Mountain, he attended the school and played under Jones. He then coached alongside him before becoming his boss when both ended up at Mesquite High School later on in their respective careers.
He now has the honor of planning the celebration for his former coach and someone who has become his friend. Grantham takes pride in that opportunity.
“It’s pretty rewarding,” Grantham said. “To see and know what Red Mountain was in the 90s, and to see how he built that program and helped develop young men and women, I’ve seen the impact he has had. With him, it’s never been about him, it’s always been about everyone else. So to now give him the opportunity to make something about him, we’re excited.”
Grantham credited current Mesa Public Schools Athletic Director Tommy Eubanks for helping set the renaming plan in motion. Eubanks, though, begs to differ.
The former Desert Vista High School athletic director said while he assisted Hogan with some paperwork before he officially took over at Mesa, he deflected any credit that came his way from Grantham and Jones.
Nonetheless, he was thankful to be a part of a special night at the board meeting.
“People don’t realize the number of connections he has,” Jones said. “It was those types of moments, when he was giving recognition to everyone in the board room, those are why we do this job. That was really cool to see and it’s something they will remember forever.
“They’ll be able to see the field whenever they want and hear, ‘Welcome to Jim Jones Field.’”
Jones admitted he did not yet know how he will react when he officially sees his name on the stadium at Red Mountain. But he wished the names of several others could be there as well.
He said he made several friends during his years as a football coach and teacher. One of those friends includes Mesa Governing Board Clerk Marcie Hutchinson, a longtime educator in the district who worked with Jones at Red Mountain. She had the pleasure of introducing the motion to rename the stadium during Tuesday’s meeting. She was also the first to motion for the vote.
Along with Hutchinson, Jones was able to share the moment with Preston and his family, along with his daughter and her husband, McClintock head football coach Corbin Smith. Some of Jones’ grandkids were also in attendance, one of which was senior Brody Smith, a starting offensive lineman at Perry.
“I might have to get an escort or something,” Jones said of when the name on the stadium is unveiled. “You have to understand, I come from a small farming community. I never thought about anything like this happening to me to be honest with you.
“This is a surprise to me. It’s neat.”