Stoney’s world

Loyalty.

Ask an animal lover to define the term, and they’ll describe the devotion of a Lab or a collie.

Ask a Hokie or a Wahoo about loyalty, and you’ll hear of season tickets going back decades, or blue/orange/maroon themes for cars, wardrobes and home decorating.

But ask a Highland Springs H.S. alum of the last 50 years, and one name comes to the lips: Stoney.

At 69, Robert “Stoney” Jones has never held office, but could likely win a local election in a landslide.

This most prominent citizen of Highland Springs is not its mayor or its most successful business leader. He was never a stand-out in athletic competition -- unless you count his reputation for bruising tackles as a teen-age linebacker on a sandlot team. Yet he owns a collection of game balls, trophies, and team caps and jackets that would put a Heisman winner to shame. As the Springers’ premiere statistician, he can reel off scores, league records and even a play-by-play of big game from decades ago.

Not bad for a guy who was a sixth grade dropout.

The son of a Wise, Va., coal miner, Jones was already struggling in life when his dad died of black lung disease and the family had to be split between Wise and Richmond. A bout of whooping cough Jones had as a child (“My mother said I had a 105 degree temperature,” he says almost proudly) may or may not have been the culprit; but at any rate, Jones grew up with learning limitations and left formal schooling in adolescence.

Since their father was a Mason, the Jones brothers moved to the Masonic Home of Virginia in eastern Henrico, then a home for needy children. Stoney’s brothers went on to star at Highland Springs, and brother Joe, who played football for Al Rinaldi in the 1950s, asked Al to find a place for Stoney in sports.

Thus he began his long career as ball boy while Joe was a player; brother Ronnie played for Rinaldi soon afterwards. Jones has been known to cite Ronnie as his favorite all-time Springer, but one of the latest Springer alums is giving Ronnie a run for his money.

“Victor,” he says of “Macho” Harris, who now plays for Virginia Tech, “is better than my brothers were. Macho, he’s the nicest kid you’d ever meet. He ain’t cocky -- ain’t cocky!”

In October 2004, after a Richmond Times Dispatch photographer captured Harris on a touchdown run -- and the photo ran with an elated, very animated Stoney clearly visible in the background -- the clipping was hung on a bulletin board at the field house. Anyone who stopped by was ushered to the bulletin board by a beaming Stoney.

”Look!” he told them. “Look at my picture!”

A half century of service
As HSHS ball boy for more than 50 years, Jones is a master at the task of rotating the two game balls to keep them dry and in playing condition, and running them on and off the field to officials.

And don’t let that ragged lope of his fool you -- Jones can move. HSHS trainer Jim Meunier brags that when Stoney was 56, he apparently beat a 19-year-old who challenged him to a foot race.

In keeping with the tradition established under Rinaldi, Jones is now senior member of a squad of younger graduates of the HSHS special education program who work the Springer sidelines on Friday nights.

Wesley Walden, Graham Wright, and Kirk Hardy all help out as assistant managers -- though Walden enjoys an extra title all his own.

“His left arm doesn’t work,” says Rudy Ward, activities director and a former coach for HSHS, “so we call him our ‘right-hand man.’ “

Wright has also been recognized for his contributions with a special title. A full-time employee at Bunkie Trinite trophies, volunteer at the Richmond YMCA, and veteran competitor in basketball, golf, and softball, he was honored this spring as Special Olympics of Virginia’s Athlete of the Year.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Stoney, the dean and elder statesman of managers for HSHS football, just took a job at Dean Foods in Sandston. Ten hours a day, four days a week he loads and unloads 36-pound boxes of margarine off trucks -- so that he can have Friday game days free. “That’s a lot of butter!” chortles Stoney. “I got my freezer full!”

Noting that Stoney has retired more than once in a career that includes serving as groundskeeper at the Masonic home and custodian at HSHS, Meunier concluded that Stoney seems unable to remain retired. He gets bored.

“He’s pushing 70,” says Meunier admiringly, citing the ease with which Jones can sling a large water cooler onto a cart. “But he’s still at it.”

What’s in a nickname?
Whether it’s the “whippin’ “ he got when he was nine (apparently for climbing a tree during a game of cowboy with brother Ronnie), or the prize bull raised at Masonic Home that tore up a boxcar, Stoney Jones relishes his stories. He’ll even tell a few on himself -- such as a recent face-plant he made in the mud after tripping at a JV game with Henrico HS.

“They asked, ‘You okay? You okay?’” he recalls with a grin, gleefully savoring his punch line. “I said, ‘You can’t hurt an old man!”

Then there’s the story of the ‘Stoney’ name, which grew out of an incident in which he hit his head on a brick wall.

On purpose? he is asked.

Oh yes, on purpose. Jones head-butted the wall because he did not want to face “the gauntlet,” a paddling line then used as a disciplinary measure at the Masonic Home.

And the wall?

“I knocked it down – broke it in two," he says matter-of-factly.

“He still has the original brick,” interjects Meunier with a smile.

But it’s the sports stories that get Stoney going. How he loves to just sit and reel off the names of all the coaches who have come and gone during his tenure!

“Coach [Lindy] Hill, Coach Rinaldi, Coach Burrell, [current] Coach Scott [Burton].

“Coach Scott, he’s like a daddy to me,” Jones adds solemnly.

Asked to cite a few highlights from his career, he regales a reporter with stories of no-hitters, TD runs and a grand slam home run hit by hall-of-famer Kip Coughlan. (Stoney is ball boy during basketball and baseball seasons also.) He tells how it felt to hang over the rail at a nail-biter basketball playoff won by the Springers. “I was nervous -- my eyes were all bloodshot. Three overtimes!” Of being unable to sleep all night after the excitement of beating Varina in football last Dec. 13.

Jones also recalls a trip to Hampton Roads in the 1970s when the crowd actually used the benches as snowplows to clear the field for play. “It snowed like cats and dogs. But Coach wouldn’t cancel it -- playoff game!”

“You asked him the wrong question,” Meunier tells the reporter, with a mock roll of his eyes. “You’ll never stop him now.”

No, there’s no stopping Stoney. Not with brick walls. Not with a supposedly life-ruining “handicap.” Not even age stops Stoney.

And there’s no missing him either. His photo presence is all over the HSHS Wall of Fame, where he shares space with his brothers Joe and Ronnie on the wall for star Boosters.

Frank Daylor, who worked numerous HSHS games as an official for the Central Virginia Football Officials Association, calls Stoney the most widely known citizen of Highland Springs.

“I’ve been down to Highland Springs when he was walking down the sidewalk,” says Daylor, “and everyone was making a fuss over him -- honking and waving and yelling, “Hi Stoney! Hey, Stoney!”

And every single one of his fans, in return, gets his signature grin.

In 57 years, Stoney Jones has missed just a handful of games -- maybe five -- out of almost 600. As Rudy Ward has said, "At Highland Springs our history is our strength, and Stoney is in a lot of that history. Stoney is married to the school.”

To Jones, it’s simple. “I love my kids, and my kids love me.

“When I don’t come, they all say, ‘Where’s Stoney?’”
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April 2017
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