If you’ve been around the program at all, you’ve probably heard that you can’t shake the Bald Eagle Area football tree without a Jones falling out of it.
From its inception in 1953 when BEA was a team without a school, there’s been a Jones on the roster most years, going all the way from Jack and Jim in the beginning to Jaden, who’s the current quarterback. It’s what they do. It’s in their DNA.
They’ve been running backs, quarterbacks, receivers and linemen. But always a football player.
The late Gawen Stoker told the story of how Jon Jones, who lived in Julian, rode his bicycle to practice each day in preseason, a distance of close to 10 miles one way. And in addition to their love of the game, they have another thing in common: All of their first names begin with the letter J, from Jack, Jim and Jerry to Jordan, Jason, Jaden and Jackson. Jerry and Jack have since passed away.
But the streak of Joneses playing football nearly ran out seven years ago when Jaden was in fifth grade.
“They had me playing running back, and I was about 4 feet tall and weighed about 60 pounds,’’ he recalls. “I got hit a lot and I didn’t like it. Gage (McClenahan, current teammate) hit me hard and that was it.’’
“Gage hit him so hard he didn’t want to go back,’’ remembers Jaden’s father Dave (whose first name is Jason). “I thought ‘uh oh, maybe the tradition is over. ‘ But by the time he got to seventh grade, he was full go.’’
The first buds on the tree sprouted in the spring of 1952, when an itinerant physical education teacher visited the Port Matilda, Snow Shoe and Howard high schools, spreading the word that the newly formed Bald Eagle Area jointure would field a football team in the fall and inviting potential players to sign up.
The boys from Howard and Snow Shoe had already been exposed to the sport, but the guys from Port were new to it since soccer was the only sport available to them.
In Sunnyside Hollow, about a mile north of of Port Matilda, three candidates, Jim and Jack Jones and Ike Williams, lived within 100 yards of each other. All three signed up to play.
“The only football I had seen was when our parents went to Philipsburg on a Friday night for groceries, and we boys went to a game there,’’ Jim recalled. “That was my only experience with high school football.
“At home, Jack and Ike and I would go out on the road and throw a football around, but that was about it. We were never on a football field.’’
When it came time for BEA’s first preseason practice, Jack Jones and Williams had cars, so they drove the players from the Port Matilda area to Howard for practice.
“We had two car loads of guys when practice started,’’ Jim said. “But as it got tougher that dwindled down to where we only had one car load.”
The next year, after Jack and Williams had graduated, the school allowed players to drive a panel truck and the following year players were permitted to drive the driver’s ed car to practice. Home games were played at Howard and Port, where the soccer field was converted into a football field. Since there were no showers at the school in Port Matilda, players were taken to the brickyard for post-game showers.
“I have fond memories of those times,’’ Jim Jones said. “I think back on how great it was to be a part of those first teams.’’
After Jerry Jones graduated in 1961, there was a gap in the family playing football until the mid-’70s, when the first of Jim’s five sons, Jim Jr., became the next branch in the tree, followed by his brothers and Jack’s three sons. The last of those, Jack’s youngest son, Dave, quarterbacked the 1988 BEA team to its first District 6 championship.
“Everyone loved Bald Eagle football in the family,’’ Dave said. “There is a picture of me when I was little wearing a BEA football jersey bouncing on a bed. Dad talked about when he played and how their first year those guys didn’t know what to expect when they got to practice. He was very proud to be on that first team. It was his senior year.’’
Both Jones brothers plus Williams were starters on the line on those inaugural teams. And they fell in love with the game. And once they began having children, they passed that love along to their sons.
“We didn’t have much choice about playing football,’’ Dave said. “If your last name was Jones, you just played football. We knew the system going in. We had a tradition to follow.’’
Dave returned to BEA after graduating college and joined the football coaching staff, continuing the family tradition. He coached his sons at quarterback and Jason continued on to play at Juniata College. But when Jaden came along, Dave stepped aside.
’’It’s really hard,’’ he said of coaching his sons. “You have to keep it in perspective. Other kids tell them they’re only getting to play because their dad’s the coach. So sometimes you’re harder on your kid because you don’t want anyone to think he’s getting a break.’’
The advantage, or disadvantage, of coming from an extended football family is that there is no shortage of coaches to offer critiques.
“They boys just anticipate you (family members) will be honest with them,’’ Dave said. “If you’re a Jones they won’t tell you what you want to hear, they will tell you the honest truth. They will give you your props but they will also give you enough criticism to keep your head from swelling too much. They will keep you balanced. I know Jaden hears from his brothers what he did right and what he did wrong.’’
Jaden, a senior, is a highly regarded quarterback who helped his team win the District 6-AAA title last year, exactly 30 years after his father did the same thing.
This year the Eagles are 2-0 and heading into a showdown with Penns Valley Friday night in a matchup with Aaron Tobias, another highly regarded quarterback.
“We talk to each other,’’ Jones said about Tobias. “It should be a lot of fun. I’ve watched a lot of his film from last year.’’
The film Tobias sees of BEA shows is a quarterback who has long since gotten over not liking the contact that comes with the territory. One of his strong suits is his ability to pull the ball down and run. But he’s learned over time to keep the contact to a minimum.
“I’m smarter now,’’ he laughed. “I’ve learned not to take a huge hit if I can avoid it.’’
When they were all younger sometimes there was more contact in the games played at the family reunion when all the brothers and cousins got together.
“Those games started out as touch football but it didn’t stay touch from very long,’’ he said
.No one who knows the family and its football history should be surprised at that. It’s how they learned to play the game.
Jaden said he plans to follow in Jason’s footsteps and play football in college. In the meantime, once he leaves BEA, the family tree will sprout a couple of more branches. Dave’s son Jackson is in elementary school at Port Matilda, where both his dad and his grandfather went. And Jim’s grandson Tyler Serb is on the BEA junior high team.
“None of the kids said they didn’t want to play football,’’ Jim said. “If they had, I don’t know how I would have felt about that. They just grew up with it. It’s part of their lives.’’