Our Kind of People

Longtime Gulfport coach has loved guiding ‘troublemakers’

There were two things Prince Jones said he would never do — coach sports and get married.

But now, after nearly 40 years of coaching, 11 state championships, hundreds of track meet wins and 48 years of marriage, he knows there is nothing he could have wanted more.

“I just felt like I could do pretty decent with it,” he said. “So I came back home (from college) and decided to coach.”

Pretty decent is an understatement, considering the enormous success he’s had in his career.

He was Coach of the Year four times at Gulfport High School, and in 2012 he was inducted into the Mississippi Track and Field Coaches Hall of Fame.

He officially retired from coaching in 2007, but it didn’t take long for him to fill his schedule with a full slate of activities.

“I still get up at 5 a.m.,” he said. “I read the paper, go golfing — except on Sundays, church days. I stay busy.” Oh, and those almost daily rounds of golf? He walks them. No electric golf carts for Prince Jones.

Fond memories

Jones spends his free time volunteering as president of the Mississippi Valley State Hall of Fame, president of the Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame and a deacon at Morningstar Missionary Baptist Church. He also spends time on the track, helping with kids who want extra coaching and working as a starter at area track meets.

Jones said he didn’t miss coaching as much as he thought he would. It’s the people he worked with over the years he’s missed most.

Through all those years in high school sports, he coached a number of young athletes who went on to star at the college and national level.

Brittney Reese, graduate of Gulfport High School and the University of Mississippi, won an Olympic gold medal in 2012 for the long jump.

Another Gulfport High student, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, went on to play basketball for Louisiana State University, the Denver Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Vancouver Grizzlies.

Jones said one of his fondest memories of coaching at Gulfport High School was going into his first state track championship in 1987.

The team didn’t win any of their events, but because they were deep enough to compete in so many, he said, they ended up with enough close finishes to walk away winning the overall championship.

‘Put your time in these kids’

Jones said much of his success, and growth as a person, can be traced back to things he learned as a child from his mother and lessons he learned growing up poor in a segregated town.

“My mother ruled the house with an iron fist,” he said. “My father worked hard and provided for us, but this is what I said I would never do: I’d never drink. Girls would come by your house and see your daddy laying up there asleep, drunk, and you didn’t really like that.

“So that was my first goal, not to be a drunk. My second goal was if I ever had kids, I’d put my time into them. I tell these young coaches now, put your time in these kids, because before you know it, they’re gone.”

Jones spent much of his childhood working summers to pay for school. He said he always had two jobs.

He’d often heard he had to buy the salt and the pepper, but no one ever told him he had to buy the shakers to put them in, too.

“So there’s no one that’s going to give you anything,” he said.

Jones said one of the things he struggles with in retirement is seeing the way many coaches fail to lead their teams effectively, and seeing teams lacking the drive and discipline he demanded from students he coached.

“I love to coach troublemakers,” he said. “If you can discipline troublemakers, they’ll win for you. I’ve had a bunch of them here. They did everything wrong with their other coaches, and I had to straighten them out. That’s just my style.”

HE said he was always a strong disciplinarian. Without that, he said, a team will not be the best it can be.

“I know some of the stuff I did was far-fetched,” he said. “But that was just my style. No one wore their shirts (untucked), girls didn’t have combs in their hair, no flip-flops. At meets, everyone had to sit together.”

“I’d see these other kids at meets walking around,” he said. “And their school just wouldn’t take care of them. At Gulfport, the booster club would give them $30 and the school would give them another $30 to eat at every meet. The State meet was always the day before Mother’s Day, so I’d always tell them, ‘Make sure you buy your mother a nice gift, you got the money.’”

Hall of Fame support

Jones’ biggest project now that he’s retired is helping run the Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame.

Every year, the popular induction ceremony draws about 400 people. He said it is a struggle to put it on, and costs have gone up to about $13,000. Donations and ticket sales pay all the costs.

The event is open to all, and tickets are $40 each. This year’s award ceremony and banquet is set for 6 p.m. June 10 at Lyman Community Center.

Despite his best efforts, Jones couldn’t help but step back on the track after retirement. On any given day, people can find him walking up and down the weathered blue turf, helping kids improve their run times and long jumps.

Jones said above all, retirement has given him the opportunity to reflect on the things he’s accomplished, even when he lost events or failed to achieve a goal.

“When you’re winning you don’t enjoy it as much as you should,” Jones said. “But when you lose, you look back on those good years, and you can appreciate it.”

Jonathan Gibson is part of a group of Ole Miss journalism students who recently spent a weekend on the Coast reporting for the Sun Herald.

Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony and banquet

When: 6 p.m. June 10

Where: Lyman Community Center

Tickets: $40. To buy tickets, call Prince Jones, 228-223-7974; Kent Jones, 228-697-5368; Steve Williams, 228-236-7142.

Etc: Every year, the popular induction ceremony draws about 400 people. Donations and ticket sales pay all the costs. The event is open to all.

2017 inductees: John Adams, Beverly Coleman, Patrick Davis, Roman Grace, Jessie Harrison, Richard Harvey Sr., Eddie Ladner, John May, Ted Miller, Frank Pilate, Leon Regal and Steve Smith.