He was two people in front of me in line and he was in tears.
The first time I met Daryl Jones was 20 years ago. We were both in line at Kinko’s. I was having duplicates made of something and he was getting copies of a quickly-put-together memorial leaflet for one of his Wilbur Wright students who had committed suicide.
The eighth grader had been “a gem of a kid,” he said.
An honor student, the MVP of the wrestling team and part of the Young Scholars Program, an Ohio State University initiative that promised academically-superior students who stayed out of trouble and had financial need a college scholarship, the boy had gone to the bedroom of his East Dayton home one day after school and shot himself with the family pistol.
As Jones talked about the boy, the tears rolled down his cheeks.
Thursday some of Jones’s former students, as well as guys who had played soccer for him at five area high schools, especially Carroll — where he’d just begun his 24th season as an assistant to head coach Scott Molfenter — were in tears for him.
The 61-year-old Jones had died unexpectedly nine days ago.
His funeral was Thursday at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Trotwood.
”He loved everybody,” said Helen Neu, his girlfriend of 23 years. “When people talk about someone never meeting a stranger, that was Daryl. Every stranger would end up being his friend.
“I remember one time we went to Denver and we were standing behind two guys waiting for the Coors Brewing tour. By the time we were done, it was like we’d known each other five years.
“He was just a one of a kind person.”
He certainly was, whether you’re talking about his own days as an athlete, the decades he spent teaching in the Dayton Public Schools or his 39 years coaching area high school soccer.
When he was growing up in the late 1960s and early ‘70s, there weren’t that many African American boys drawn to soccer.
But he was mentored by a couple of soccer aficionados in the area – Jerry Butcher, who once coached at Central State and the University of Dayton and later owned the Dayton Dynamo pro team, and Jim Droulis, a former goalkeeper in Greece who coached at Colonel White — and soon he was in love with the game.
He won All-Ohio honors as a goalkeeper at Colonel White and then played four seasons in goal for the University of Cincinnati. He also played for the Dayton Triangles soccer team.
After getting his masters at UD, Jones became a physical education teacher at various area schools.
He spent two years as an assistant coach at Wayne and then became the head coach at Belmont for 10 years. In 1983 he was named the City League Coach of the Year.
He next went to Northmont as an assistant and his teams lost just two games in two years. After that came a season at Vandalia Butler and then he found a permanent home on Molfenter’s Carroll staff in 1996.
That very first season Jones’ reserve team finished the season unscored upon. In 2003 he was named the Ohio Assistant Soccer Coach of the Year. Two years later his reserve team went 15-0, outscoring the opposition 104-2.
In 2007 — vying against more 2,000 other nominees — he was named the National Assistant Soccer Coach of the Year by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
Beginning in 2008 Carroll would win four state titles in five years. As Molfenter’s top assistant, Jones had chances to become a head coach someplace else but decided to stay at Carroll,
“He found a niche with the kids we have at Carroll,” Molfenter said. “He made a real connection and that helped us have a lot of success.”
Always ‘so full of life’
Neu said Jones had spinal surgery at Grandview Medical Center last month and recovered slowly.
He came back to the Carroll team and tried coaching at two scrimmages, but was struggling lately, Molfenter said: “He just wasn’t able to move around real well.”
Eleven days ago, Dr. Marc Thoma — who had played for Jones at Carroll in the late 1990s, was a Patriots’ assistant coach with him for two years and has remained his friend — said “he essentially collapsed at practice.”
Molfenter insisted he step away from his coaching duties for a while and concentrate on his health. Jones was reluctant, but called the next day and said that’s what he’d do.
But the following morning he awoke, didn’t feel well and called both the paramedics and a neighbor.
By the time help arrived, Jones had died sitting in his chair.
“We’re not really sure what happened,” Neu said quietly, “It might have been a heart attack.
All I know is that it doesn’t seem real. He was always a guy who was just so full of life.”
‘He looked out for everybody’
Neu – a longtime educator in area Catholic schools who now teaches special education in the Springfield public school system – said she and Jones have gone out since 1996.
“He had such a generous spirit and such compassion,” she said. “He looked out for everybody.”
A few of his former players said the same thing, she said.
As they were at his house getting some photos together for a slide show at the viewing, Neu said former players told her story after story about the ways he had helped them:
“And he stayed connected with them after they had graduated and started their own lives.”
She said in November, Jones — who had retired from teaching — had planned to follow the Dayton Flyers to Hawaii for the Maui Invitational. In the process he hoped to get together with one of his former Belmont players who now lives there.
“That boy had had a very difficult home life and Daryl had been in his corner the whole time and beyond. He was pretty remarkable like that.”
Thoma remembered Jones being at the wedding of a sister to one of his former players because “basically he had become just like family to them.
“He didn’t have any kids of his own, so all of us were like his kids. He became family to a lot of players.”
Family was important to Jones and one of his most cherished bonds was with his dad, Deroy Jones.
Deroy and his wife Lillian had been married 49 years when he died in 1998.
After that, Daryl would regularly visit his dad’s grave at the National Cemetery on West Third Street next to the VA Center. Deroy had been a graphic designer at Wright Patterson AFB for 39 years.
And every Father’s Day Daryl had a special tradition which was captured beautifully in a column written by my late colleague Dale Huffman.
He told how Daryl would take his well-worn striped lawn chair, portable radio and a cooler to his father’s grave, sit down and then tune in the Cincinnati Reds game, which he’d then listen to with his dad.
Over the years the two had gone to Reds games as Crosley Field and Riverfront and they had sat side by side at Cincinnati’s World Series games in 1972 and 1990.
Daryl had had the tickets to those games framed because they reminded him of a special time with his dad.
“He was my hero,” Daryl had said. “He’s the best man I’ve ever known.”
Thursday there were some of Daryl Jones’s former players who were saying the same things about him.
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