By 4 p.m. Staff Sgt. Jacob Jones walks across the Crawford Moseley High School auditorium. During the day he dons the sage green Airman Battle Uniform that brought him to the Florida Panhandle – by night he’s in athletic attire. His outfit, save for a whistle, is stereotypical of a high school wrestling coach.
Jones has a muscular build. He’s of average height with an unmistakably youthful countenance. Growing up he was an athletic powerhouse, able to conform to any sport. To say Jones was made to wrestle is an understatement.
“I wrestled in high school and did pretty well,” Jones said. “I went to state a couple times and wrestled in college. When I joined the military I was [deployed] for such a long time … I tried to find any [way to get back into the sport.]”
For more than a year and a half, Jones has traveled down the long two lane highway that connects Tyndall Air Force Base to Crawford Moseley High School, the whole time wearing the dual hat as mortuary affairs Airman with the 325th Force Support Squadron and assistant wrestling coach at Moseley. What started off as a a once weekly affair evolved to three days.
“I know what wrestling did for me, and I hope that what it did for me I’m doing for those kids,” Jones said. “I went from being a freshman thinking I’m not even going to be able to make varsity in baseball to being a two time state qualifier…. I may not look big but I wasn’t messed with in high school because they knew how good of a wrestler I was.”
It wasn’t until after Hurricane Michael devastated the Panama City Beach area that Jones began coaching full time. Three hours on the mat ballooned to 20 hours weekly.
“We are so grateful to him for caring so much,” said Ogden Tyndall, Crawford Moseley High School wrestling team mom. “He is serving his country, but he is also serving his community and we will be forever grateful.”
The rag tag group of fourteen meet at day’s end in the school auditorium. Having completed their academics, the student athletes swap their thinking caps for workout clothes. In time, the youthful chatter of adolescence is overtaken by the groans and the hollow sound of take-downs on rubber mats. The cold satisfying sweat of their evening labors helps complete their ensemble.
“This weekend we won the District Championship,” Tyndall said. “The last time our school won was in 2009. We truly believe that Coach Jones helped us get there. He doesn’t just tell our wrestlers what to do, he actually gets on those mats and wrestles. He motivates and challenges them. Our wrestlers love him.”
There are no body-slams happening here. No choke slams, people’s elbows, steel cages or flashy acrobatics to rile up crowds the wrestling done here is an ancient sport – dubbed by some “the oldest sport.” Cave drawings of two men grappling with surrounding crowds have been found dating back thousands of years.
He’s in his element on the mat. Expertly maneuvering throughout.
“It made me disciplined, appreciate every bit of work and effort I put into it and every bit of work and effort my coach put into me,” Jones said. “Although I didn’t see it at the time, it changed the way I looked at life after high school. In the military the discipline was there before I even went into the military and I’m just grateful for everything it’s done for me.”