Dougherty Co. educator earns Jefferson Award for dedication to youth baseball
FOX 31 continues to honor our local heroes with the Jefferson Awards.
The Jefferson Award is the nation’s longest standing and most prestigious organization dedicated to celebrating public service.
Chris Jones is October's recipient, and he's hit a home run by helping more local kids play ball.
In the Jones family, the name “Christopher” isn’t the only thing passed down from father to son — so too is a love for baseball.
For the elder Chris, that meant becoming a coach once Chris Jr. could play.
“I’ve always volunteered and participated and been involved in that capacity, so just from that aspect, my love of the game continued to grow,” Jones said.
But as his son got older, Jones found that a one-size-fits-all approach to Little League doesn’t always work, so he decided to bring a new league to the area: the South Georgia Mariners.
“I felt like I had a lot to offer to the youth in the community, so it’s one of those things, we just kind of took it and ran with it,” Jones said.
Jones founded the league back in 2013, and it has only grown since then. What started as one team for kids 7 and under is now three teams for kids of different ages, with new developmental teams in the works. The Mariners currently boast about 30 players from all across South Georgia, though they practice in Dougherty County.
Jones said that growth has a lot to do with word-of-mouth recommendations and their motto, “Bigger than baseball.”
“Our players model the highest degree of integrity and sportsmanship, so it’s very easy for us to build and establish those relationships,” he said.
Their season might not span the entire 12-month calendar, but the Mariners are consistently together throughout the year, working out, grabbing something to eat, and even stepping up to the plate when their neighbors needed it most.
“Each time the community was impacted by the storms, everyone jumped in headfirst and provided food and different supplies and resources to families in need,” Jones said.
That all means there’s no offseason for Coach Jones, who also serves as the assistant principal at Dougherty County’s Live Oak Elementary School.
“I arrive at work, let’s say, anywhere between 7 and 7:10 in the morning,” he said. “My school day normally ends about 5 or 5:30 in the afternoon, and then that’s when we begin practice in the afternoons.”
Just like their coach’s own schedule, school always comes first for the Mariners.
“We stress the importance and emphasize academics and just try to get players to be more community-oriented, get our families involved and try to impact others at the same time,” Jones said.
Jones said he’d enjoy seeing some of his current players follow their dreams to play college baseball or even make it to the big leagues.
But with the Mariners and their coach, it’s always bigger than baseball.
“As long as my players are being productive citizens in the community, that’s really all I care about,” Jones said.