Five banners adorn the freshly painted white walls of the Sarasota Military Academy wrestling room.
Their stories have yet to be written, but, over time, their legacies will be defined.
Each banner depicts a new chapter — chapters SMA wrestling coach Ron Jones hopes to fill in the years to come.
Jones, who is in his first official year coaching at SMA, is seeking to bring a winning culture and tradition of excellence to a program that is only in its second year of existence.
“It’s a brand-new program,” Jones says. “We’ve got dedicated kids and there’s more parent involvement. It’s always nice to look out and see parents in the stands. Kids tend to wrestle a lot harder then.”
A former high school wrestler in his own right, Jones began coaching 38 years ago. He moved in 1982 to Sarasota High where he spent 29 years at the helm.
During his tenure at Sarasota, Jones had three teams finish in the top 10 in the state, including the 1989 team, which won the state title by 45.5 points over Clearwater, and he coached 13 individual state champions.
“Going into the 1989 state tournament, I said, ‘We will win by the largest margin,’” Jones says. “We only had four individual state champions, but it set the precedent. You have to buy into the program.”
In addition to coaching at the high school level, Jones, who once made the finals of the Olympic Trials in 1984, also serves as a USA National Wrestling Coach. Jones has done 14 tours around the world and has had some of his wrestlers qualify for the Olympics.
In 2008, Jones was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Okla. Jones was one of five coaches, officials or contributors from Florida chosen for the honor that year.
“It means a lot,” Jones says. “It was a big thrill to see so many people show up. One thing about coaches is that you spend so much time with other people’s kids rather than your own. But, if you’re going to do something like this then you have to put everything into it. I put a lot into this, so it means a lot when your peers select you.”
Following the end of the 2011-12 school year, Jones learned his position at Sarasota had been cut. Jones was offered an aide position, but he wanted to remain in the classroom.
SMA headmaster Dan Kennedy approached Jones about a possible position teaching construction as well as the opportunity to coach the fledgling program.
“It’s been a blessing,” Jones says. “I know things happen for a reason. This is better for me here, and I got a new program to start.”
Last season, the Eagles competed as an independent team, but were ineligible to participate in the Florida High School Athletic Association postseason. Jones did not coach last season so that Connor Steinfeld, one of his former wrestlers at Sarasota High, would be eligible to wrestle. (There could have been talk of recruiting, otherwise, because they came from the same school.)
This season, Jones is back at the helm and has taken 18 wrestlers under his wing.
The Eagles finished fourth in the 10-team Big Lake Tournament Dec. 14 in Okeechobee. Steinfeld won the 152-pound weight class and five other wrestlers finished in the top 4.
Now with a handful of tournaments remaining before the district tournament, Jones is preparing his team for the tough road ahead, which starts with the 12-team Class 1A-District 11 tournament Feb. 1.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t come to school thinking about wrestling and these kids,” Jones says. “It’s a little frustrating because most of the kids that our guys are wrestling have been wrestling three or four years. But every time we strap it on, we get a little more experience under our belts.”
Jones is hoping to qualify a few wrestlers for the regional tournament; he thinks both Steinfeld and Billy Sadlo could make the state tournament — and the podium.
But, more than anything else, Jones hopes that every time his wrestlers step into their new wrestling room, they learn a little more about themselves and who they want to become.
“I want the kids to grow up and leave this program and become good husbands, fathers, employers or employees,” Jones says. “Wrestling is just a bonus for these guys.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected]