It was a normal day which was about to take an abrupt U-turn.
As he and many other high school football coaches do during the summer, Lugoff-Elgin head football coach Scott Jones was spending one of his “working vacation” days atop a lawn mower, cutting the grass at the school’s football stadium and practice field. There was nothing unusual about that.
Suddenly, however, Jones’ cell phone rang and it was his friend, Don Frost, the head football coach at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, on the other end. The rest of the story starts to tell the tale of how Jones went from being a multi-tasker at the West Wateree school to venturing to a new opportunity.
“Don called me up and said, ‘What are you doing?’” Jones said in recalling that conversation which took place a few weeks ago. “I told him that I was cutting grass and he said, ‘What if I had a deal for you where you wouldn’t have to cut grass anymore?’
“I said, ‘Well, what are you talking about?” He said, ‘I have a young coach on my staff who is going to be the new head coach at Ben Lippen and God just told me to give you a call. He needs somebody with experience to come over and help him on his staff.’”
That “he” turned out to be Derek White, who left Christ Church to become the new head coach at Ben Lippen Christian School. When White’s hiring was official, he placed a call to Jones, asking that the 12-year head coach at L-E come meet him at the Columbia school’s campus.
White was quick to offer Jones a position on his staff. Jones, politely, rebuffed the request on three occasions; each time the school came back armed with a more enticing offer. But Ben Lippen officials were not going to take no for an answer as the full-court press to bring Jones on board continued.
“I wasn’t trying to get a better deal. The honest truth is, I wouldn’t have thought I would have done this in a million years,” Jones said. “I really didn’t want to leave (L-E.) It was pretty late in the year and I didn’t want to do that to Lugoff-Elgin. But the headmaster there (at Ben Lippen) prayed with me (last Tuesday) and said to me, ‘When God calls you, you can’t tell him no.’”
Jones could not say no to the higher calling soon thereafter, the winningest head coach in Lugoff-Elgin football history was meeting with Kershaw County School District (KCSD) Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan to tell Morgan that he was retiring from his job as a teacher, head football coach and athletic director at L-E.
In a phone interview last Wednesday, Jones made it a point to say that he was not forced out of the job(s). But leaving the stress which comes with being a head football coach and athletic director of a 4A program is something which, in many ways, he will not miss.
But that is not the real reason for what was Jones’ final decision. It came from his looking within himself and seeing a different person than the one he looked at in the mirror several years before. In many ways, his decision to take on the role of geography teacher, offensive coordinator and an assistant administrator at a Christian school runs parallel to the life which Scott Jones leads.
“It’s no secret to a lot of people here that my life has changed over the past few months,” he said. “I’ve undergone a religious transformation, so to speak. I’ve rededicated my life to Christ. Some crazy things have happened and I feel very strongly that I am being called to go and serve (at Ben Lippen.)
“I know it’s late and I hate it, but I think the football program at Lugoff-Elgin is in really good hands with the assistant coaches who are there. I know that the school will make a good decision on what they are going to do in the interim process … I think it will work out well.”
Morgan said that the KCSD was currently in the process of naming an interim head football coach for the 2014 L-E season as well as an interim activities director before a full-scale search will be performed for the positions. KCSD officials added that they have assembled a panel of school- and district-level personnel who will be interviewing interested internal candidates. Lugoff-Elgin principal Worth Thomasson is also talking with stakeholders to get their input on long-term and short-team needs for both the school’s football and athletic programs.
Morgan, who was taken by surprise at Jones’ decision, praised the former Demon coach and athletic director.
“Scott Jones is a man of strong character and integrity who has served Lugoff-Elgin High School well,” Morgan said of Jones’ tenure at Kershaw County’s largest high school. “He’s, literally, touched thousands of young people’s lives during his time in Kershaw County. I wish him well in this new opportunity.”
In 12 seasons as the Demons’ head coach, Jones guided the program --- which kicks off its 43rd season when rival Camden comes to Lugoff-Elgin stadium on Aug. 22 --- to a school-record 57 victories on the gridiron and to the Region 6-4A football championship in 2010, the first year the school was bumped to the ranks of the state’s largest high schools.
A Sumter native, Jones came to Lugoff-Elgin in 1995, as an assistant coach to then-first-year head coach Ernie Hughes. When Hughes left the school and accepted the head coaching position at Andrew Jackson in the spring of 2002, Jones was promoted to the head coach for the Red and Blue.
In Jones’ first season calling the shots, he directed the Demons into the AAA Upper State championship game which L-E lost to eventual state champion Union High School. That capped an 8-6 campaign and remains the deepest post-season run in the history of the program. In 2008, L-E advanced to the third round of the AAA Upper State playoffs, capping a 9-4 campaign with a loss to Daniel which came on the heels of road wins at J.L. Mann and Greer in first and second round contests, respectively.
A 31-year high school coaching veteran with the last 28 of those as a teacher, Jones was also the athletic director at Lugoff-Elgin for the past 12 seasons. Under his leadership, the Demons won three AAA state championships in wrestling (2003 and 2010) and baseball in 2010.
It was a period in his role of overseeing the school’s athletic department which proved to be the most trying time of Jones’ tenure at L-E.
In 2011, the parents of a Lugoff-Elgin High School cheerleader questioned the school and the KCSD as to alleged mismanagement of funds for new uniforms for the cheerleading squad. The two parents, Mike and Marti Gogan, who would later move from the community, said they were told the school would not be able to replace their old uniforms.
From there, the school was hit with a Title IX (a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972 which protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs and activities which receive federal financial assistance and assure athletic equality for male and female athletes and teams) complaint. For the better part of the next year, Jones, Morgan and KCSD lawyers thoroughly investigated the allegations and met with officials from the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights on a regular basis. In March of 2012, in its letter of findings, the Office of Civil Rights informed the KCSD and Lugoff-Elgin High School that it did not find any evidence that the school discriminated against female athletes by denying them equal access to athletic opportunities, funding, facilities or equipment.
The months, days and hours which Jones put into dealing with the allegations and clearing his and the school’s name took a toll on his professional and personal life. He once said he would not have wished that situation on his worst enemy.
“It’s no secret that the Title IX thing took a lot out of me,” he said of a period in which he missed football practice time and family time, as well. “The 16- and 20-hour days that I had to spend on that really took a lot out of my family, a lot out of my personal life and, my health.
“That’s a big part of my decision. I won’t have to go to any more games (which he did as the athletic director.) I’ll just get to coach football which is all I wanted to do, anyway.”
Jones said he anticipates coaching being fun again with having to oversee a group of players on his side of the ball as opposed to being in charge of the entire team and, the athletic program. A former assistant at Lower Richland and Dutch Fork high schools before coming to L-E, Jones said being an assistant coach is right up his alley.
“That’s what I like doing,” he said of being back and coaching. “The past few years, I’ve been stuck in an office. Up until the Title IX fiasco, I was able to go out and actually meet students, be out in the hallways and do those kinds of things. The past few years, I’ve been sitting behind a desk. There’s a whole generation of kids at Lugoff-Elgin who don’t even know who I am. They just know that I’m a name behind an office door.
“The (athletic director) job has just become so demanding at a 4A high school that I just don’t see how you can be a football coach and an athletic director and do a good job at both. I look forward to being able to go out to the practice field at 3:30 (p.m.) and coach kids and then go home and not have to worry about the other stuff that goes with it.”
While being exhausting, frustrating and taxing, Jones said the entire Title IX saga which he went through at L-E did not sour him on athletics, teams or, people in the West Wateree community.
“Obviously, I didn’t want to go through that personally. The school, the athletic department and myself were vindicated,” he said. “It didn’t sour me; it was just something we had to go through. It took a lot out of me and the energy for doing things at the school.”
Saying that “God has shown me a new direction,” Jones said the sudden passing of good friends over the past two of three years, especially Joey Dorton and Rob Evans, made him step back and re-prioritize his life.
“It’s given me a new perspective on what’s important,” he said. “What’s important is my relationship with the Lord and spending time with my family. I’ve neglected my family, a lot, for a bunch of other children in this community. The Lord has given me this opportunity to continue to work with kids and also, to have some time with my family which is what I’m really interested in, right now.”
As far as the football end of things at L-E is concerned, thanks to the efforts of Jones and Hughes before him, the head football coaching job for the Demons is a more desirable post than it was in the early 1990s. And in spite of the program’s having four wins over the past three seasons, when the school opens the application process for a new football coach at the conclusion of the coming season, there should be no shortage of quality candidates from which to choose.
“It has all the potential in the world,” Jones said of his former post. “I see light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve gone through a little bad spell with athleticism and we had a little drug issue going on a couple years ago where I had to kick a couple people off the team.
“I think we have more participation in the program, right now, than I think we have ever had. I think that’s unbelievable with as bad as we’ve been the past couple of years to have the numbers that we have out there now. I just see it getting better; there’s a good group of ninth- and tenth-graders coming through.
“Whoever gets the job is going to have some talent to work with over the next couple of years.”
Jones said the come-from-behind playoff victories over programs such as Daniel, Broome and Greer are the ones which he will treasure when he thinks back of games in which he coached at L-E. But there is one special memory which he will take and it did not come on the playing field.
That moment came at the conclusion of last year’s one-win campaign, one which Jones admitted to being one of the toughest seasons that he had even endured in his coaching career.
“I have a fond memory of a young man who stood up after the season and thanked the coaches and the seniors for all that they had done,” Jones said. “That says a lot about our kids. After you’ve been through a bad season, where kids will throw their helmets and start acting bad, well, that never happened with our kids. I was real proud of that.
“I’ve coached championship teams and I’ve coached in the Shrine Bowl and I can tell you that, and most people might not believe this, last year was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever had as a coach just because I got to work with so many wonderful young men.”
Following his meeting to relay the news of his decision to Morgan, Jones made sure the 2014 Demons were the first group to hear that their coach was leaving. Jones did not want the young men to hear about the news through any other medium than the source himself.
Included in that team room were four players who, in their younger years, served as ball boys for the Demons. It was not the easiest task which Jones has had to perform.
“It was hard for me to talk to them,” Jones said of his farewell speech to his former players. “I know the Lord always has a reason for why things happen like they do. But I know that Lugoff-Elgin will shine, do well and go on to do great things.”