The most inspiring speech you’ll ever hear from a coach
One week ago, my dear friend Jerry Jones passed away after a long battle with leukemia. I’ve shared a little bit about Jerry — but there’s one more story I’d like you to know.
As I’ve said, Jerry probably touched the lives of more girls basketball players than anyone in our area. He founded the Western Washington Premier Basketball Association — the WWPBA — but no one ever called it that. It was always known as the “Jerry Jones League.”
We had Jerry’s memorial service Saturday at Shorecrest High School. It was a great sendoff and it was beautiful to see young women in their teens — and their 20s and 30s — come to say goodbye to this great man who had coached them.
Jerry has been my assistant coach at Shorecrest the last two seasons. This last year, Jerry, our other great coaches — Ed Baran and John Eck — and I thought our team had incredible potential. But we just weren’t putting it all together.
We were the only 2A team playing in the toughest 3A league in the State. At the end of the regular season, our record was 11-9. Just a click above mediocre.
We went into the district tournament where we won our first game and lost our second. Our record was 12-10 — still just a click above mediocre.
From there, every game was loser-out. We beat the No. 3 team in the state by two points and then won another District game. We had made it to regionals — just one game away from advancing to the State tourney.
At the beginning of the season, we had set getting to State as one of our team goals. I thought the excitement of being so close to that goal would lift our team up. But we just weren’t clicking.
When you put 12 teenage girls together for two-and-a-half hours a day, six-days-a-week for three-and-a-half months, there are bound to be some tensions. Nothing horrible — but enough that we weren’t quite reaching our potential.
So on the Monday before Regionals, I gave the girls my best pep talk — “we’re so close to our goal … we have to come together and give our best effort every day at practice …”
Tuesday came, and we still had the same tensions. So I gave another speech — even better than the one before. That speech didn’t work either.
Wednesday, I saw the same tensions. We just had not yet found the way to unlock our potential. So I went up to Coach Jerry. He was very weak. The walk from his car to the gym took all of his energy. I said, “Coach, I’ve tried everything. Why don’t you talk to the girls today? Tell them how special it would be for them — and you — to get to State”
I was expecting a 30-second speech. Instead, Coach Jerry gave us all a moment we will never forget.
First, he sat on the floor at midcourt while the girls were stretching. It was the first time all season he had sat on the floor — simply because it was too difficult for the man to get up.
He told the girls about when he was a player at Garfield High School more than a half-century ago — they went to State every year. If you’re a Garfield Bulldog, you just believed going to State was your birthright.
But then, as the years passed, he realized how special and rare State was. Many years later, when Jerry’s daughter Angie was at Holy Names, they went to State — so Jerry had experienced State as a player and as a dad.
But he had never made it in all his decades as a coach.
And then Coach Jerry — who ten minutes earlier had been so weak he could barely walk in the gym — told all the girls to get in a push-up position. And he did as well.
This was just five weeks before he passed. I don’t know where this strength came from.
Jerry’s arms were quivering.
I was so nervous. I thought his arms were going to collapse.
On his third push-up, Jerry stayed down. Sweat streaming down his face …
He told the girls, “I just reached my personal point of collapse. All of you have your own point of collapse. But unless you give it everything you have — everytime you step in a gym, everytime you have a homework assignment, every thing you do in life — if you don’t reach your point of collapse, you will never know what greatness you have inside you. You will never know your true potential.”
And Jerry then told the team something he had not even confided in me personally.
“Last April, the doctors told me I probably wouldn’t make it to the end of the year,” he said, and then smiled. “But I’m still here — because I wanted to see the birth of my baby granddaughter — and I want to see you girls get to State.”
Remember what I said about unlocking our team’s potential? It turns out Coach Jerry had the key.
Because here’s what I believe happened that afternoon: I think Coach Jerry took some of the last strength he had left — and he pushed it through those quivering arms — and it traveled through those basketball floorboards that he loved so much — and it came through our hands and arms and into our hearts and souls where it magnified by a thousand times.
Because something magical happened that day.
Three days later, we won our Regional game by 35 points. We had made it to State. That was our goal all along. But suddenly, merely getting to State wasn’t enough — because Coach Jerry had given us this magic.
We won our first game at State by 17 points. We were in the State semifinals for the first time in school history. In the semis, we had to face the No. 1-ranked team in the state.
We won that game by 17.
Now we were in the finals for the first time in school history. And we had a big ol’ brick wall in front of us. Not only were we playing the most recent team to have defeated us, but also, in the history of girls basketball in our state, no team with ten or more losses had ever won a state title.
Remember, just two weeks earlier, we were 12-10.
But we had this strength, this magic, that Coach Jerry had given us. We won that State championship game and Coach Jerry Jones — just 15 days before he passed, in the final game he would ever coach — fittingly went out as a champion.
I have one other Coach Jerry story to share. Two years ago, when I finally convinced him to come coach with me at Shorecrest, we met at Edmonds-Woodway where my team was playing in a summer league.
In between games, Coach Jerry and I walked out of the gym and sat on the grass in the summer sun. He said something I will never forget: “Dori, do you know what I love about coaching? I just believe that if we teach these kids something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives, and pass that along to their kids, and their kids pass it along to their grandkids … well, in a way, then we can be immortal.”
Saturday afternoon, dozens of kids coached by Jerry were at his memorial. And if someday, when they have kids of their own, they tell their kids to go “KNEE DEEP” … or to “PLAY TO THE POINT OF COLLAPSE” … well then I know my friend Jerry is indeed immortal.
- Tune in to KIRO Radio weekdays at 12 noon for The Dori Monson Show.