Remembering Marion “Jap” Jones, Texas Black Sports Pioneer

By Joe Booker
Updated: August 8, 2006

"Jap" Jones (circa 1981)

HOUSTON — This state has lost a great humanitarian and sports figure with the passing Marion “Jap” Jones, a pioneer in the world of sports. Jones, known by everyone as “Jap” passed away after a brief illness in Fort Worth.

Jap was an all-around athlete at Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas, Texas. He went to Wiley College in Marshall, Texas on a football scholarship where he excelled in football, basketball, track and tennis.

He was named an All-American in football and track and is widely regarded as the greatest all-around athlete in Wiley College sports history.

Jones also ranks as one of the most versatile all-around athletes in the history of the SWAC. He was a one man track and field team, earning National AAU and All America recognition and earning 16 Wiley varsity letters in basketball, football, track and tennis. Jones was “Mr. Everything” for the Wildcats.

In what may rank as one of the greatest individual performances in SWAC track and field championships, Jones racked up 21 points, over two-thirds of Wiley’s 31 point total in winning the SWAC title in 1947.

After graduation, he coached, taught and served as a high school administrator for 38 years, retiring in 1983. Jones also served as a high school football, basketball and baseball official and officiated in the SWAC from 1948 to 1971.

It was at Wiley where he met Hattie Washington, who he called “the dream of my life.” His nickname came from his military service, but not in the way one might think.

“When he was drafted in 1942, he and his fellow officers ate at a place called Jap Jones Café in Tyler, Texas, “said his wife Hattie. “He got the nickname, because he ate all the food in the serving line before the others could get to it.”

For his efforts he has been inducted into the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame, the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame and the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Hall of Fame.

Jap has served on the Board of Trustees for his alma mater Wiley College. Wiley showed its appreciation by awarding him an Honorary Doctorate degree.

A pioneer for Texas’ high school black coaches

After efforts failed to get coaches who had been successful in the PVIL (Prairie View Interscholastic League) into the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Fame, Jap decided that blacks must first honor their own.

He met with a group of coaches like Billy Howard, Johnny People, John Tankersley, Don Grace, Walter Day and James “Bo” Humphrey, to start their own Sports Hall of Honor. Later, I got a call from the late John Tankersley to meet at his house.

Jap and several other coaches were present. The purpose of the meeting was to come up with new ideas to make the Hall of Honor among the best in the nation.

A humble contributor

He had more energy than people that were 30 or 40 years younger. During the week of the Texas High School Coaches Association the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Association held its annual Hall of Honor Banquet.

Also, the PVILCA had hospitality suite where young and old coaches would stop by and learn about the old PVUIL. Often the young coaches would stay in the hospitality suite until 2 in the morning and Jap would stay up with them talking about the good old days in the PVUIL.

It was amazing how the young coaches took to him even they were not born when he was a two-sport All-American at Wiley College.

There was not a Jap Jones Café in the PVILCA Hospitality Suite, but Jap made it a point to have plenty of food in the suite, where he led the food line.

I had the privilege of working with him as Assistant Executive Director of the PVILCA. It was his nomination, (after I retired as a high school coach) that led to my being unanimously voted into the PVILCA Hall of Fame.

The sports world will truly miss this great legend.

Thanks for the memories Jap.