Saturday, August 19, 2006

Grambling greats: Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones

Grambling's Jones had fast-moving passion for school, baseball
August 18, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Wilbert Ellis, then an assistant baseball coach at Grambling, used to welcome the most uncommon of sights.

The school president would leave his office, like clockwork, just before 3 p.m. and change into his cleats, his ballcap and his uniform. Then Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones would coach the baseball team.

"He had a great energy," said Ellis, who was an assistant to Jones for 17 seasons before serving another 25 years as his successor. "We would practice until 6. This was before NCAA regulations. Back then, we just practiced until we were ready." Jones' teams rumbled through conference play, winning seven titles between 1958-67. He was also a two-time runner up in the national NAIA baseball tournament.

"He had a unique style in serving both as president and as a coach," said Ellis. "He cared about people. No matter what the color the skin, he just wanted to reach out and help people. That's what he came to Grambling to do. He wanted to build an institution that would reach out, not only to the various area communities, but to the nation."

A former Negro Leagues player, Jones (called "Prez" by teachers and students alike) knew the value of work — and was used to making do with little.

"I shall never forget," Ellis said. "It rained all night and rained all day then stopped about 12 o'clock on a day when we were to play Southern. They had packed up, but 'Prez' would have none of that. He had dirt moved in, and we played. Bob Lee was coaching Southern at that time, and he couldn't believe it. For so long after that, he'd say: 'Don't go to Grambling and expect not to play.' 'Prez' was able to get the most out of you."

That never-quit attitude helped spread the word about this country school and its surprisingly successful athletic programs.

Jones and Ellis mentored dozens of players who signed major league contracts, from Ralph "Gator" Garr — who led the National League in hitting in 1974 — to James "Sapp" Randall, Grambling's current baseball coach.

"Those men turned out to be great men. Some played ball but others went into other professions. They've done extremely well," said Ellis, a 1959 graduate of Grambling who won 715 games in his own right, advancing to three NCAA Tournaments and winning three SWAC titles.

"He had a way of talking that made you feel like you were the best," Ellis said. "He made a believer out of you — just by saying: 'You can do it.' If you listened to him, you just knew you would make it to the top, whatever your profession."

But while Jones worked tirelessly, often getting up before the sun for his workdays, Ellis is quick to note that he was dedicated to his loved ones.

"He was a family man," said Ellis. "He believed in the family unit. One thing about 'Prez,' he maintained the character that he wanted you to exemplify. He earned respect."

Lessons in Leadership
This was part of an occasional series profiling legendary coaches from around the area, and the effects they had on the athletic field and on others' lives after the games ended.

About 'Prez'
NAIA Hall of Famer Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones founded the Grambling baseball team, then led the Tigers to the national NAIA baseball tournament in 1961, '63, '64 and '67 — earning runner-up honors in 1963 and '64. Jones won seven conference titles, coached 11 All-Americans, and was named the 1967 NAIA Coach of the Year. But he was much more than a skipper. Known affectionately even today as "Prez," Jones took over as president at Grambling in 1936 when the school was a segregated teachers college. By the time he retired in 1977, he had added four colleges to elevate the school to university status. Jones composed the school's alma mater, and was the driving force behind creating the Tiger Marching Band. He also hired a youngster named Eddie Robinson to coach the football team in 1941.

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