This article was first in InSide Out Newsletter.
“A coach will impact more people in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime.” – Billy Graham
Everyone needs a Red Jones in their life; that person who is a caring mentor and difference-maker during your childhood years. For me, that person was Red Jones. And if it weren’t for baseball, I would never have known him. Red was not only a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and local baseball legend, he was also one of the most instrumental figures of my adolescence; a transformational volunteer coach that left a lasting imprint on the arc of my life as an athlete, coach, educator, and person. I am just one of the hundreds who have a story of benefiting from Jones’ kindness and selflessness. Decades later as I look back and reflect on the great lessons and experiences youth sports provided me, I am flooded with warm memories of Jones and all that can be good about youth sports.
Jones epitomized what it means to be a transformational coach and established the foundation of how I coach (and hopefully mentor) my own athletes. The good fortune of knowing Red began for me in middle school and continued into my adult life. It has been over a quarter of a century now, but I vividly remember riding in the Jones family conversion van to a neighboring community for a Babe Ruth baseball tournament. Red’s offer of a Coca-Cola for each bunt base hit improved my batting average for the following decade. But what I remember most about Red is that I knew he cared about me in ways beyond how well I could bunt. Jones had an innate skill in showing care for those he coached.
Jones single-handedly organized and managed a youth baseball league for generations of baseball players. In Jones’ basement, he let middle school-aged kids draft their own teams, always quietly reassured by Red’s million-dollar smile and guided by his caring presence. There wasn’t a selfish motivation in Red’s body, he volunteered purely out of his love of the game and helping youth. Jones’ focus was always on creating opportunities for kids—it was one of his ways to give back to a game while providing a healthy outlet for the young people of an entire community. For a whole neighborhood, Jones was seen as a generous father-figure. As a young ballplayer, I learned the game of baseball from Red Jones. As an adult, I now realize he was teaching me about more than baseball; he was teaching me how to navigate life. Jones was raising a lot more than my batting average—he was raising me.
Who is your Red Jones? Are you helping raise more than batting averages? After all, every kid needs a Red Jones.