Ernie Jones Continues to Produce Wrestling Champs
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
WRESTLING FAMILY: Wrestling coach and legend Ernie Jones, left, with his coaching sons Rodney, Biff and Shawn.
Photo courtesy of Ryan’s Images
It took a while, years, in fact, for Ernie Jones to find his life’s career path.
He wandered aimlessly. Randomly. Without a plan. Without purpose.
Until wrestling took hold of him.
That, plus a little divine intervention.
When Ernie Jones finally answered the call of the wrestling mat, after a decade of ignoring his one true love, the world of Oklahoma high school wrestling, not to mention the world of Ernie Jones, has never been the same.
At the age of 29, Jones graduated from college, took control of a defunct wrestling program at Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School, and promptly set about to create a dynasty and a legend.
In seven years at Washington, he produced five state championship teams, and he coached one of the state’s most famous athletes, Olympic gold-medal wrestler Kenny Monday.
When Jones moved across town to Webster High School, the legacy grew larger.
His teams won dual state championships. Team state championships. Individual gold medals.
He coached a team at Webster that earned a No. 1 national ranking.
In 1995, Jones received a Lifetime Service Award for Coaching from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
And Ernie Jones, the man who became an iconic coach, gave back to that sport something unique, something enduring, something endearing.
He gave the sport of wrestling three coaches.
His sons, Shawn, 35, Biff, 32, and Rodney, 29, have followed in his formidable footsteps straight into the Oklahoma coaching ranks.
Even in retirement, Ernie Jones could not forsake the sport of wrestling, the power of wrestling.
After retiring from Tulsa Public Schools in 1998, Jones spent two years tending to a lawn service and working security in Tulsa.
In 2000, he accepted an invitation to become the head wrestling coach at Cascia Hall, which had not fielded a wrestling team in years. Jones was the perfect man for the reconstruction job.
In the recent Class 2A state championship meet, his Cascia Hall squad placed fourth, and had two individuals crowned champions. One of those, 130-pounder Mike Bizzle, became only the 19th wrestler in state history to ring up four straight championships. The other champion was 119-pounder Gregg Cannon. A third Commando, Brent Walters, placed second at 112.
The Ernie Jones Legacy continues.
At the same time, his son Biff guided Glenpool to third place in Class 3A, with two individual champions. Shawn, who coaches Sapulpa, was in the hunt in Class 6A, and finished 12th. Rodney, the youngest, is an assistant at Mustang, after seven years as an assistant at the University of Oklahoma. Mustang placed fifth in 6A with one individual titlist.
“I feel like I’m the richest man in the world because of my wife, Diana, and my children, and the career that I’ve had,” the soft-spoken Jones says. When he took his final walk through the halls and the wrestling room at Webster High School, Jones says now that, “I was washed out. I was burned out. It was a natural time to retire, to resign from coaching. And I thought that was it. I really did. I was so worn down.”
But the call of wrestling was as strong as the call of the sirens in Greek mythology.
“I don’t think this is a job,” he says. “I just think the good Lord put me there. It’s almost like a calling.
A refreshed Ernie Jones is building Cascia Hall into a wrestling power. Along the same levels that he created at Washington and at Webster.
He is a coach. He is a teacher. He is a master.
It didn’t start out that way.
Ernie Jones, who wrestled for Jerry Billings at Sapulpa, spurned college offers after high school. No one in his family had attended college, he said. Besides, the money he was making as a laborer was enticing enough.
After a while, he enrolled at Northwest Missouri State in Maryville.
He dropped out after a semester.
He enrolled at the University of Oklahoma.
He dropped out after two semesters.
He moved to Tulsa and worked as a volunteer wrestling coach.
Again, it was wrestling that beckoned.
He returned to college. This time with a purpose. This time with some divine intervention.
“Wrestling seems to be the thing that has kept me going,” he says.
“And it’s been a pretty good ride.”