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A TRIBUTE TO SAM: New athletic award honors Sam Jones’ spirit of sportsmanship

A friend to everyone.

A quiet leader.

An exceptional athlete.

A steadfast teammate.

All those phrases and more have been used to describe Sam Jones, a 2008 graduate of Charles Henderson High School who died after a vehicle accident in September 2019.

Jones, the son of Vicki and Allen Jones of Troy, died at 29, leaving a legacy of friendship, love and perseverance that is honored in a new athletic award.

“When Sam died, his classmates in the Class of 2008 began this Go Fund Me account and raised an incredible amount of money in just a few weeks,”  Allen said. “After the fund-raising ended, they asked us to take it over and handle the award each year … It’s an award in Sam’s memory and his honor, but the Class of 2008 is also a part of this award.”

The class of 2008 Sam Jones Memorial Sports Award was presented for the first time this year to Niaira “Tuti” Jones and Griffin McCrary, both members of the 2020 graduating class at Charles Henderson High School.

“The plaque reads the award is given for ‘outstanding performance, discipline, sportsmanship and perseverance,’” Allen said. “And that really speaks to what Sam was about.”

Allen jokes that Sam wasn’t fond of the academic aspect of school. “But when it was football time, baseball time, that was his time … on a field, with a team, in a locker room,” Allen said.

Sam was an athlete, playing football, baseball, basketball and golf from the time he was a little boy. He played in the city recreation leagues – where his father coached for a dozen years – and then played for the Charles Henderson teams in middle and high school.

His senior year at CHHS was highlighted by an undefeated season in football, earning the team the 5A Region Championship and a spot in the 5A Quarterfinals, finishing with a 12-1 record.

That same year the baseball team finished as Runner-Up for the 5A State Championship, setting a then-record for CHHS with a 35-13 season.

Sam was named a member of the 5A Area 3 All-Area Baseball Team and 5A 1st Team All-State as an outfielder. He also was awarded the Johnny Teal Award at CHHS Awards Day.

“Sam not only had a lot of friends, but on the football and baseball teams, he stood out in his role,” Allen said. “He was laid back in his approach, but his teammates in both sports looked at him as one of the leaders and so did the coaches.”

And the characteristics that made Sam an exceptional team player and a quiet leader are the same that are recognized with the memorial award.

“Tuti and Griff without question represent what Sam’s award is all about,” Allen said. “As I said to them that day at the high school, when we did a private ceremony to present the award, they weren’t selected to receive this award; they earned it …

“And that’s important to realize. This is not something just to be given but to be earned. And as Sam’s family, we were very pleased that it was Tuti and Griff who were the first recipients.”

Niari “Tuti” Jones gave an interview after helping lead her team to the AHSAA 5A State Championships, saying “I’m most proud of being a great teammate.”

“That says it all,” Allen said.

Tuti was a standout on the CHHS girls’ basketball team, which won two state championships and earned one runner-up title during her tenure. She was awarded the MVP of the 2019-20 title game, named a Player of the Year in State 5A Teams and is a member of the ASWA Super All-State Girls Team. She scored an average of 19.6 points in the regular season of her senior year and has signed with Belmont College in Tennessee.

“Successful would not even begin to describe her high school career,” Allen said.

Griffin “Griff” McCrary began playing on the CHHS golf team in seventh grade.

“What he’s had to overcome is nothing short of indescribable,” Allen said.

Diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome and ADHD, Griff has fought to control his body and his mind as he excelled on the golf course.

By the time he started eighth grade, Griff was playing the No. 1 position in all the team’s matches. His lowest score was 69, shooting six birdies in a row, and he was the low medalist at the AHSAA 2019 5A sectionals with a score of 75. Although the 2020 season was cut short because of COVID-19, Griff was the low medalist in all three matches he was able to play.

He will be playing college golf at Wallace State Community College in Hanceville.

“Griff has had to work so hard to get where he is,” Allen said. “And his high school career was so successful.”

Perseverance. Persistence. Athleticism. Leadership. These are the qualities the award recognizes, Allen said, which he believes sets it apart from other honors student athletes might receive.

“I’d give anything if we weren’t having this conversation right now, but I hope this award can do so many things in the future,” Allen said. “You never know how an 18-year-old might be affected by being told ‘Hey, you earned something. You did it. Keep going. Keep doing the work. Keep earning your goal.”

It’s a message Allen passed on to all three of his sons, on the field and at home. And one that Sam embraced in athletics.

“Sam’s involvement and success in athletics was the reason this award was created,” Allen said. “This is what he loved and was dedicated to, and he would be proud of both Tuti and Griff.”