This article appeared in the Antelope Valley Press, Sunday, August 5, 2012
As Desert High students 30 years ago, Allen Hoffman, James Peterson and Steven Knight were surrounded by exciting, historic times.
The commanding officer of Edwards Air Force Base, Brigadier General William Anders, had been one of first three human beings to orbit the moon on Apollo 8.
The world’s greatest air show was annually opened by Gen. Chuck Yeager re-enacting the breaking of the sound barrier, the aerospace equivalent of Christopher Columbus re-splashing ashore at El Salvador.
They had standing invites to the Space Shuttle’s homecomings to Rogers Dry Lake.
But Thursday afternoon, when the three proud Desert High alumni reminisced about their high school days, the towering hero of memory wasn’t an astronaut, or even a pilot.
Officially, Jack Jones was their golf coach.
Thirty years later, the man who lost a long battle with illness last Monday at 87 remains an inspiration.
“We were all talking about how much he meant to us,” said Knight, now the 36th District Assemblyman and an aspiring state senator. “We all have those coaches or teachers in high school who either kicked us in the butt or gave us advice that was valuable for life.
“In Jack Jones’ case, that was both.”
Knight could be on his way to following in his legendary father Pete Knight’s footsteps in the State Capitol from the Assembly to the Senate next January in Sacramento.
Hoffman, the commandant of the flight test school at EAFB, is already following in the career contrails of lunar visitors Anders and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin.
Peterson is a key Boeing official working on the development of the F-22 Raptor, the 21st century national security heir to the F-15, F-16 and B-2 that routinely graced the skies over the world’s greatest Air Force Base a generation ago.
A state assemblyman desperately trying to keep our state from going off a fiscal cliff, and two sentinels of democracy who embrace their roles in protecting their fellow Americans from foreign enemies.
Not a bad threesome scorecard to sign off on.
“My father would be very proud to hear them say those things about him,” said Casey Jones, a devoted son who has been Lancaster High’s devoted athletic director since 1997. “Everybody in the Valley knew my father as a coach, or an official.
“But most of all, he was an educator. Everything he did was geared to help his students, or his players, in their life after graduation. To see where those three have gone with their lives made my father very happy.”
Never one to miss a teachable moment, Jack Jones’ own life was almost a page out of “The Grapes of Wrath.”
The Oklahoma native would annually follow his own father west each summer. Papa Jones, like the Joad family, had relocated to Bakersfield.
The story fairly drips with destiny here. Father and son did most of their building in the Antelope Valley, helping put the residential infrastructure in place 30 years before the phenomenon that established the Valley as the affordable housing capital of Los Angeles County.
In 1958, Jack Jones settled in Kern Valley. A year later he moved to Palmdale.
But this time it wasn’t to build houses.
It was to build the future pillars of society that people like Steve Knight, Allen Hoffman and James Peterson have become.
Jack Jones understood instinctively that Desert purple is the color you get when you mix American red, white and blue.
“On the base, obviously, you have military families coming and going from all over the world,” Knight said. “One great way for new kids in school to have a feeling of belonging was to play sports. So Coach Jones wasn’t just a coach or teacher.
“He helped so many kids feel welcome and right at home at Edwards. There was a lot of sociology he did, too.”
Casey Jones was reminded of the first back-to-back golf championships his father won in the old Desert Inyo League.
“The way families were getting moved around on deployments at the time, Dad only had freshmen and sophomores on those two teams,” said Casey Jones. “Imagine how good they would have been had they been able to stick around as juniors and seniors.”
Knight, Hoffman and Peterson are the physical answer to that question.
Jones, like his Sooner soulmates Darrell Havens and the late Jim Carmichael, never spelled sports with dollar signs.
The three understood that the greatest dividend of a good football team was not local newspaper headlines, but the higher attendance, grade-point averages and school spirit that invariably followed.
Jones coached at Palmdale before moving on to Desert. While he coached Scorpion football, he is best remembered, and revered, for his golf program.
For all the wisecracks that “they call it golf because all the other four-letted words were taken,” the game is a marvelous teaching tool for focus, dedication, discipline, perseverance and self-control.
We could use a lot more of all of those these days, couldn’t we?
Jack Jones was no-nonsense teacher of those virtues. He’s take all these modern excuses for mediocrity that pass for education theory and dump them in the bunker on 15.
As straightforward as a punch in the nose (sometimes, literally) Jones was an unapologetic purveyor of tough love. No slices. No hooks. No mulligans.
You get one chance at life, Jack Jones believed. So get it right the first time.
This will all be celebrated Aug. 20 at 6 p.m in Garry Phelps Gymnasium at Palmdale High School.
Thanks to Casey Jones, it won’t be a night of looking back.
The Lancaster High AD wants to establish a scholarship in his father’s name at Desert.
“I called them and found out they couldn’t even offer the golf program last year,” Casey said. “What better way to honor my Dad than to raise funds to get the program going again?”
Actually, Casey’s been honoring his father by bringing the same type of dedication to the sons and daughters of the 21st century Valley that his father made so memorable six decades ago.