Coach Defies Death, Lives to Help Others

Perspectives Football Coach Terry Jones
Coach Terry Jones during an interview at the Perspectives Rodney D. Joslin campus on the South Side of Chicago, January 26, 2017. (Jennifer Lee/MEDILL)

By Jennifer Lee

When he was shot in fourth grade, his mother said it would only make him stronger. When he was stabbed in eighth grade, she looked at it as a blessing.

Against all odds, Terry Jones has survived six gunshot wounds and one stabbing.

“I think there’s someone on earth that needs my guidance,” he said. “I think God wants to use me in that type of way.”

Now, Jones is the football coach at Perspectives Charter Schools and knows well the pressures that his players face every day because he has lived them. His scars are proof that he is all too familiar with the prevalence of violence in the inner city, and the inevitable tragedy that follows.

“He’s not afraid to share his story,” said Jason Wise, who played football for Jones in high school and is now dean of students at Perspectives. “A lot of people don’t really want to tell about the darker parts of their lives, but I think that’s the part that makes him a little more authentic than a lot of other people, that he will share that part of himself.”

Jones’s first brush with death occurred on the playground at Bond Elementary on Chicago’s South Side. He was in fourth grade.

“We were out at recess and an argument ensued across the street between two rival gangs,” Jones recalled. “I heard gunshots and everybody scattered.”

People took off in different directions, desperate for safety. Some ended up on the ground after getting tangled up with others in the chaos. It wasn’t until the dust settled that Jones felt the warmth of blood covering his right arm.

While many would consider Jones unlucky to have been hit by the stray bullet, his mother Cherry had a different take.

St. Francis University Football Preview '96
St. Francis University Football preview, 1996 season. Jones started at linebacker for the Fighting Saints in 1996 and earned All MIFC First Team honors.

“My mom was a praying mom,” Jones explained. “She just looked at it as something that I went through that is only going to make me stronger.”

Before she passed away in 1996, Cherry Jones often kept such a positive outlook in the face of dreary situations. According to Jones, it was faith that gave his mother this strength.

Jones was in eighth grade the second time he dodged death. At this time, WWE was all over television and boys his age idolized Hulk Hogan so every day after school, Jones and his classmates would wrestle.

“Me and this young man were wrestling and I held him in a position for too long, and I guess he felt he couldn’t get out,” Jones said. “He took the knife from wherever he had hidden it and stabbed me in my lower abdomen. I looked down and actually saw my guts.”

“My mom, strong woman that she is, looked at it as more of a blessing because she felt that I was heading in the wrong direction.”

Perhaps it was a mother’s intuition.

Jones had gone to the park the day before to join a gang. He was scheduled to meet up with them to be initiated later that day, before he was stabbed.

“I would have been a sworn-in member if I hadn’t gotten stabbed that day,” he said. “So it actually did turn out to be a blessing.”

Jones’s closest encounter with death took place outside of a South Side bar in 1998. He had just been drafted into the Arena Football League and was back in Englewood for a brief visit. On the way to his sister’s house, Jones stopped when he saw several friends hanging outside of a bar.

“Seconds later, shots rang out,” he recalled.

Jones felt a bullet hit his ankle but continued to run. He couldn’t tell where the shots were coming from, only that they were getting closer.

“Another bullet hit me in my kneecap and I fell to the ground,” he said. “I looked up and actually saw the shooter right in front of me and he let out a couple more shots.”

That night, Jones said he ended up with five bullets in his ankle, knee and chest.

“Growing up on the South Side I saw so many things occur, from friends to family members losing their lives at a young age,” he said. “It definitely had moments that put me in dark places.”

Warriors’ running back Derek Lowe believes that Jones’s experience with hardship and his willingness to share those stories is what makes him such a compelling leader.

Derek Lowe Signs with Trinity International University
Trinity coach Dwayne Taylor Jr. (left) and Perspectives coach Terry Jones (center) smile as senior running back Derek Lowe (right) signs a national letter of intent to play football for Trinity International University.

“He understands how it is in the black community and how it is for us, how it’s tough growing up,” the senior said. “But we are around the same environment that he was when he was our age, so he can relate to us.”

There is certainly no doubt that Jones cares greatly about his players. To them, Jones is much more than just a coach.

“He’s like another father figure to most people,” Lowe said. “It’s about more than just football with him, it’s bigger things that he focuses on to help develop his players into better people.”

“ABC” is a motto that Jones lives by and preaches to his colleagues. It stands for Always Be Coaching.

“Coaching is a journey and it’s all about giving back,” he said.

Along with the scars, Jones still has a bullet lodged in his knee, a reminder of what he believes is his life’s purpose.

“His ability to change and impact lives is what he does best,” Lowe said. “If he has been through all that and is still alive, God has all to do with that and sees great potential in him.”

Photo at top: Coach Terry Jones during an interview at the Perspectives Rodney D. Joslin campus on the South Side of Chicago, January 26, 2017. (Jennifer Lee/MEDILL)