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June 12, 2014

PREP GIRLS BASKETBALL: Jones relishing family time since resignation as longtime West Point coach

CULLMAN — There are those who love West Point athletics, and then there’s Regina Jones, who’s lived them for the better part of the last three decades.

Jones put in three years as one of the Lady Warriors’ fiercest basketball players and spent the past 21 as the program’s head coach. After watching so many kids rise up the ranks, she’s ready to do the same for her own, the chief reason Jones resigned from her dream job in February.

Jones has yet to regret the decision. She’s still traveling to West Point’s team camps and play dates, but only as a spectator for her boys, Ryder, a rising senior, and Rylan, a soon-to-be eighth-grader. Jones and her husband, Randy, the Warriors’ varsity boys basketball coach, also have a daughter, Ryleigh, who’s set to enter the fifth grade.

Jones is handing over the reins to John Welborn, the school’s longtime middle school leader and former Cold Springs assistant under sister Tammy West. Jones will continue to coach varsity volleyball.

“I only get one opportunity to watch them, and I didn’t want to miss it,” she said. “It just broke my heart to have to miss so many of Rylan’s games. Our parents had gone and supported and took him for us, but it’s not the same. I wanted to be there for me.”

Jones attended Jones Chapel before feeding into West Point for the final three years of a productive prep career. She graduated in 1989, but not before helping the Lady Warriors’ reel in half of their county championships during a six-year streak, the longest since the girls tournament started in 1977.

Jones, known by the maiden name Bagwell in high school, was a member of West Point’s Final Four squad as a sophomore and the recipient of the inaugural Bill Shelton Award as a senior.

Four short years later, Jones was back at her alma mater — this time as head coach.

A retirement left a teacher’s position open, and the resignation of her eventual father-in-law, Randall Jones, opened the door for her to take over the program.

Jones had huge shoes to fill from her predecessor — Randall won eight county titles from 1983-93 — but managed to make an immediate impact, claiming back-to-back county crowns her first two years on the job. She added another pair of county championships in 1999 and 2006.

Of Jones’s five regional berths and two finals appearances, none were as memorable as 2001.

After losing to Lawrence County four times the season before, the Lady Warriors exorcised their playoff demons by taking down the two-time defending champs. A last-second game-winner by Lori Smith (now Lori Clark) vaulted West Point into the regional championship, snapping Lawrence County’s string of six straight trips to the state finals in the process.

The Lady Warriors lost by just three points in the ensuing title tilt to Deshler, who took off on a four-year state championship run (2003-06) a few winters later.

“She really broke down what she thought we needed to do against other teams,” Clark said. “I was with her for so long, and I knew what she wanted. She knew how to talk to us. She wasn’t very loud, but we knew when she meant business.”

Some of Jones’s most unforgettable victories came against a couple of Cullman County’s best-ever teams — Cold Springs (1999) and Hanceville (2001).

“We beat Cold Springs the year they won state. That was the only loss they had,” Jones said. “And then we beat Hanceville the year they won state. That was the only loss they had. Those were some pretty big wins for us those seasons.”

From being coached by her father-in-law to leading alongside her husband to watching her oldest son after girls games wrapped up, it’s easy for Jones to sum up her experience on the hardwood.

“I had 21 good years,” she said.

And the common denominators in the previous paragraph?

Family — and basketball, of course.

“That’s our life,” Jones said. “It’s what we love. I couldn’t imagine us doing anything else.”

Randall has certainly seen firsthand his daughter-in-law’s transition from player to coach to family member. The former West Point captain remembered Jones as a “really good player” and wasn’t at all surprised by the success she had in coaching.

“She was a competitor when she played for me,” he said. “I had her for three years, and we had always had a good record. She was easy to coach, she listened and she helped me coach some before she took over after I resigned.

“As a former coach and her father-in-law, I couldn’t be more proud of her. The Warriors have been lucky to have her for the last 21 years.”

During her senior season, Randall recalled Jones being pretty sick during their county championship game. Despite the illness, Jones kept it to herself and led the Warriors to their third straight county title with a win over Cold Springs.

Heith Yearwood, former West Point boys coach and the high school’s current principal, understood Jones’s reasons for stepping down but was still sad to see her say goodbye to basketball. She waited to inform the team of her decision until after the Lady Warriors bowed out at the area tournament.

“Coach Jones has meant so much to us over the years, not only in her playing career, but her accomplishments as she continued on from what Randall Jones had done,” Yearwood said. “We just really appreciate all of her hard work and everything she’s done. West Point has always been dear to her heart. She wanted nothing but the best for it.”

For Jones, coaching came down to one simple principle — she just enjoyed having stand-up players and kids.

Amanda Scott was one of many athletes fortunate enough to cross paths with the longtime coach. Scott graduated in 2006 before moving to play college basketball for the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Montevallo.

According to Scott, those days of glory, which included lifting the last of Jones’s county championships, almost never occurred.

“She was a huge influence in both basketball and in life,” she said. “I was going to give up basketball in the sixth grade. One day, I was shooting by myself on a side goal when Regina came into the gym. I always respected her because she was a varsity coach and her teams were really good. She gave me the effort and the time. She showed me how to shoot the ball and what I needed to work on. I’ll never forget that.”

That type of coach-student relationship reached far beyond a single player. According to Clark, who went on to play college ball at Wallace State and West Alabama, Jones gave her plenty of rides home from various camps and practices from the time she was pulled up as a seventh-grader until graduating six years later.

Both players recalled Jones being “calm and collected” on the sideline for their teams. However, Scott was quick to note Jones could “light a fire under us” when things weren’t going West Point’s way.

“She expected us to play well,” she said. “When we didn’t, she let us know about it. But that’s not why she was great to me. Sure, winning is important. But when I look back on my high school career, I don’t remember the amount of games we won or lost. I don’t remember the scores or the stats. But what I do remember is how she made me feel. She gave me every bit of confidence I needed by showing me I had the potential to be someone if I just put in the effort. She couldn’t do it for me. I’d have to do it. She was an inspiration on and off the court.”



% Rob Ketcham and Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, exts. 138 or 136.

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