Jones is coach, educator and friend

Published 2:54 pm Friday, February 5, 2010

When I heard Wednesday morning that Ralph Jones would be retiring as Decatur County School Superintendent on June 30, many fond memories of our relationship as reporter, coach, educator and friend raced through my mind.

I remember when late Bearcats head football coach Prescott Forsyth brought him in as an assistant coach. It was 1973, and Ralph had just graduated from Florida State University, where he played football for the Seminoles.

He remained as an assistant, working with quarterbacks and running backs, under coaches Miller Shealy and Jimmy Hightower. When coach Hightower left in early 1981, after just one season, to become recreation director in his home town of Americus, late Decatur County School Superintendent Charles Bess and the Board of Education named Ralph, who taught industrial arts at Bainbridge High School, head football coach and athletic director.

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In 1982, he led the Bearcats to a 14-1 record, and the State Class AAA championship.

It was during that state championship run in 1982 that I first witnessed the great passion that Ralph had to see young people succeed on the football field, in the classroom and in life.

It was the week of the Cairo game, a Region 1AAA game the Bearcats really needed to win after an early season loss to another Region 1AAA foe, the Mitchell-Baker High School Eagles.

I was hanging around the practice field that Monday, waiting to cover the first day of Cairo week practice when I noticed something a little different.

All of the players and assistant coaches were out on the field ready to begin practice, but coach Jones was nowhere to be seen. After several minutes of practice, the door of the field house, which is now the ninth-grade field house, flung open wide and coach Jones came out running to the practice field while raising his arms and hollering.

The team reacted by jumping up and down, slapping each other on the shoulder pads and generally getting fired up.

The team’s practices remained intense the rest of the week, and they were able to edge the Syrupmakers 7-0 in Cairo and go on to win the state Class AAA championship with a 7-6 victory over the Gainesville High School Red Elephants on a rain-soaked City Park Stadium turf in Gainesville.

Ralph, a Cairo High School graduate and former Syrupmakers quarterback, went on to lead his alma mater to an undefeated season and the 1990 State Class AAA championship. He recorded more than 200 victories as a head coach before stepping down at a still young age.

After remaining at Cairo High School several years as athletic director, Ralph returned to Decatur County as Bainbridge High School principal. He was named superintendent when Superintendent Leon Pate resigned to accept a teaching position at Valdosta State University.

Ralph, who has retained that same passion for helping young people succeed as he had as a coach, teacher and principal during his years as superintendent, was the richly deserving recipient of the State Superintendent of the Year Award in 2008.

There are many citizens of Bainbridge and Cairo today who are better people because Ralph Jones touched their lives in such a positive way.

I wish him, his lovely wife, Sharon, and their son, Ralph, nothing but success and happiness in his retirement.