ANNA — Long-time educator and coach Hubert Jones, better known as Hoot, will retire from the Anna Independent School District in early June after nearly 30 years of service across Texas. For the affable Jones, who has been the girls track and field coach at Anna High School for the last 10 years, adapting to the idea of retirement will take some time.
“It’s hard to really get in the frame of mind that I’m actually retiring,” he says. “I have worked all of my life and I can’t imagine waking up one day and not having to anymore. It’s going to be unusual. It’s going to take some adjustment.”
Jones will be 70 in June and has coached track, football and basketball from Texas’ Gulf Coast to the Panhandle since 1970, with stops in Carrizo Springs, Clear Creek, Morton and San Antonio. Along the way, he returned to the family grocery business for 18 years but eventually returned to coaching and never left again.
Anna, Jones says, has been a fine and welcome situation for him.
“It was just what the doctor ordered for me,” he said. “I’d never heard of Anna before. We drove out here and found it — had to get a road map to find out where it was. From the get-go, the people I worked with, I would say the fellow coaches, the administrators, the teachers, the custodians — just everyone involved here — has been good for me. I couldn’t have drawn it up any better myself, if I had described the ideal situation. …I think I’ll miss almost everything about it. The people, the sights as you drive into town … making friends, speaking to everybody and knowing some of these kids, then getting to know their parents. I’ll miss all that. Life is about people. It’s not about buildings and all that. I’ll miss the people — no doubt about it.”
Anna athletic director Jason Heath and many others know that Jones will be missed as well.
“Coach Jones has had a large impact on girls athletics here in Anna for several years,” Heath says. “He has developed and grown our girls cross-country team into a program that has won and competed for district championships. Sending the girls team to state for the first time in school history two years ago and just missing out on a return trip this past year says a lot about what he has been able to accomplish. His track teams are always competitive, as well. … I will also venture to say that he could walk up to any stranger and in a few minutes be able to determine someone that the stranger and him both know.”
“He’s been my coach since I was about 12 years old,” Anna junior quarter-miler Abby Sanders says. “He’s pretty much the only coach I’ve ever had. He’s always been there for everybody and it’s sad to see him go. …He’s always there for the girls, and it’s not always about running. When we come to him with something that’s personal, he’s still there for you. He’s just our coach.”
Anna volleyball coach Tomika Crosby has worked closely with Jones throughout his time here, in track, basketball — and volleyball too.
“As his assistant track coach these past few years, it has been a great learning experience for me,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from him. He has a lot of wisdom and a big heart. He’s one of the most compassionate and genuine individuals I know. … Coach Jones and I joke a lot with each other. I’m going to miss those moments. He’s a great man of God and I’m going to miss our daily talks about Christ. I’m also going to miss his love for track and his genuine love for people.”
Born and raised in the small Texas Panhandle town of Memphis, Jones was a top track athlete in high school and went on to run at then-Abilene Christian College.
“It was one of the top track programs in the country,” Jones recalled. “We were Division I then. They had a tremendous history with several Olympians in the 50s and 60s. … They had a history of great mile-relay teams, and I went there for that reason.”
Jones ran the 440-yard dash and the mile relay at ACC.
“We ended up placing in the NCAA meet in Knoxville, Tennessee, in ’69,” he said. “That was our last race.”
Jones didn’t keep running after college.
“At 21, I’d had enough,” he said. “But looking back, I wish I would have continued a little bit.”
After his initial eight years of coaching, Jones decided to return to Memphis and the grocery business.
“We had that store, then we accumulated a few more stores in small towns in the Texas Panhandle,” Jones said. “It was not a big operation.”
Those years allowed Jones the opportunity to continue what he enjoyed most: “being around people.”
While back in Memphis, the high school athletic director approached him about coaching the girls track team.
“They didn’t really have a track coach or anybody that knew anything about it — or cared,” he said. “He asked me if I wanted to come out and work with girls track and I said, ‘Man, I guess so.’ I thought it might be a year or two thing, and here we are in 2017 and I’m still in it.”
Jones says a most rewarding aspect of his tenure at Anna has been witnessing “the work ethic and desire of these girls.”
He’s also proud of what the Lady Coyotes’ cross country program has accomplished.
“We had never taken a team (to state) before — boys or girls had never taken a cross country team,” he said. “Two years ago, these girls were determined and could see it coming together in the summertime. They put together a team and we qualified for the state cross country meet.”
Individual cross country state-qualifiers mentored by Jones include Katelyn Newton, Courtnie Hughes and Raye Moran.
Among other top Anna athletes Jones has coached, he points to Jessie Thomas, a 2010 regional champion in the 400 meters and third-place finisher at state before continuing her running career at West Texas A&M.
“Anything you wanted her to run she could do,” Jones said.
Another 2010 grad, Syscily Brown, was a mile-relayer with Thomas.
“I still keep in touch with her,” Jones said. “She’s teaching up in Brooklyn, New York.”
Then there were 2013 grad Asia Lard — “She was a very pleasant surprise,” Jones said.
There’s also Denisha Hampton, who went to state three-straight years in the 300-meter hurdles and won regionals in 2015.
High school student-athletes of course, have changed over the course of Jones’ three-decade tenure.
“Kids have a lot of distractions that they may not have had 30, 40, 50 years ago,” he said. “A lot of things to take their time. You’ve got a lot of different sports that are available to them that, in the past, weren’t available. So you have some that can’t make up their mind what they want to do and they try to juggle two sports at the same time.”
The desire for material things, he notes, sometimes distracts as well.
Jones says he and his wife Connie, whom he met and married at Clear Creek, plan to travel more now and spend time with family.
“I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do on some stuff,” he said.
The couple has two daughters — one in Plano and another in Waco — and three grandchildren.
Jones, who also taught Health and Professional Communications while at Anna, offers this advice to his successor: “Be yourself.”
And, he said he would tell them, “You’re getting ahold of some girls that want to win and they’ve been working hard for number of years. And I know that this eighth grade class, it’s one of the most talented classes I’ve ever seen. …That shows how wise I am — I’m getting out at the wrong time. … I can foresee that this team could be great for years to come. The future is very bright here at Anna.”