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Former mentor brings special football to JTC

Center will be site of May 19 Job Readiness Training celebration

Posted: May 11, 2017 4:21 p.m.
Updated: May 12, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

Rob Jones (center, back row) is surrounded by students and staff from the Jackson Teen Center (JTC) as he shows off a football signed by members of the DC Law indoor football team in Dodge City, Kan. Jones has been on assignment in Kansas, but returned April 17 to present the football as a gift to the center and its students. JTC Executive Director Brian Mayes (second from left, middle row) said Jones served as a basketball coach and mentor to the center’s middle school-age students.

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A football may be worth 1,000 words, especially if it’s signed by members of a football team and given to some special teens by a former (and, hopefully, future) mentor who misses them.

A number of months ago, Jackson Teen Center (JTC) Executive Director Brian Mayes visited The River Church, which hosts its services at Camden High School, to ask for volunteers to help out at the center. One of the first to answer the call was Rob Jones.

For the next few months, Jones coached the JTC’s middle school-age students in the fundamentals of basketball and also helped a bit with high school-age basketball players. However, Jones -- an environmental health and safety manager -- ended up on a long-term assignment in Dodge City, Kan. While there, he stayed at a motel that also housed members of a Champions Indoor Football team, the DC (Dodge City) Law.

Jones returned to visit the JTC and the middle school students he had coached on April 17.

“I didn’t want to leave you. You allowed me to be a part of your lives, but they needed me just as much,” he said of the DC Law team members.

Mayes remembered Jones’ leaving for Kansas was emotional.

“He came in here, literally crying. It was tough for the kids, too,” Mayes said.

When he wasn’t working on his job assignment, Jones said he spent time with the Dodge City team. He learned that some, if not most, of them only earn $200 a game and get food vouchers.

“So, I started cooking for them. They are great young men, very respectful,” Jones said. “All of the guys are college graduates.”

Jones said some members of the DC Law are former National Football League or college players who play either because they still love the game or because they’re hoping experience in the arena will lead them to a major team.

“When I told them about the kids (at the JTC), I said they don’t have hardly anything. They (the football team) wanted to do whatever they could for them,” Jones said.

So, they gave Jones the first football rookie quarterback Rudy Johnson threw for a touchdown and signed it for the JTC students.

Among the players who signed the football Jones brought back for the JTC is signed by players such as Travonti “Tuff” Johnson, who signed as an undrafted free agent with the New York Giants in 2007 and also played college football at Central Florida; and DeMarcus Lamon “Tank” Tyler, who was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007 and played for them for three years.

Jones said one of the things he’s missed while in Dodge City is bringing his son, Craig, to the JTC.

“When we first came here, he complained that he was the only white kid, but now, he doesn’t say that,” Jones said. “I grew up in an all-white community in Oklahoma, but I was in the military and some of my best friends are black. My son likes to come here; they’ve accepted him."

Jones and his wife, Stephanie, a teacher at Doby’s Mill Elementary School, have another son, Conner, and a daughter, Callie, who is a cheerleader at Lugoff-Elgin High School.

Jones is a former athlete himself, having played basketball with European teams. At one point, he hurt his ankles and was told he would never play again. He fought back, though, and ended up playing again for a military team based at Ft. Campbell, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border.

“I played with Mark Price of the Cavaliers and played against Charles Barkley and Wayman Tisdale and against a number of college teams,” Jones said.

He hopes to return to Kershaw County in June and get back to helping out at the JTC.

JRT Celebration 2017

The JTC will be the site of a free Kershaw County Job Readiness Training (JRT) celebration at 5:30 p.m. next Friday, May 19. There will be a cookout and live music, featuring Justin Rufus and Live in the Flesh. Louie Vee from the Beat 100.1 in Columbia will be on hand.

There are also rumors that several JTC staff -- and possibly students -- will be participating (willing or not?) in a dunking booth.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated moments will be a performance by the JTC’s own Hope Gumbs, who has recorded a CD of music that will be available to pick up for free during the May 19 celebration.

The public is invited to the JRT celebration, which is expected to draw Camden and Kershaw County leaders as well as area residents. The JTC is housed at the former Continuous Learning Center, which was once home to the Jackson High School, on York Street across from Camden High.

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