Archdeacon: Victoria Jones takes on another challenge

Two Dayton Public School products: Victoria Jones, Dayton Pubic Schools athletics director who once starred at Patterson Co-Op and played basketball Dayton Flyers before a successful college coaching career at Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation of Welcome Stadium with Keith Byars, once a star running back at Roth High who went on to All America honors at Ohio State and played 13 years in NFL. (Photo by Tom Archdeacon)

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Two Dayton Public School products: Victoria Jones, Dayton Pubic Schools athletics director who once starred at Patterson Co-Op and played basketball Dayton Flyers before a successful college coaching career at Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony for the renovation of Welcome Stadium with Keith Byars, once a star running back at Roth High who went on to All America honors at Ohio State and played 13 years in NFL. (Photo by Tom Archdeacon)

Sitting there in the second row – just 5-foot-2, part of her face hidden by big sunglasses, much of the rest of her blocked from view by the people sitting up front on the makeshift stage outside Welcome Stadium Wednesday – her presence didn’t match her impact.

That’s the way it’s often been for Victoria Jones, who some old-timers – going back to her days growing up in tough circumstances in West Dayton, learning basketball at the Linden Center and then starring at Patterson Co-Op – still remember as “Little Vickie.”

But then, like now, the moniker was something of a misnomer.

“Short, but mighty,” Jones, now the executive director of athletics for the Dayton Public Schools, said with a grin and some punch back when I broached the subject the other day.

And no one knows that might better than Grant Clark, who coached her at Patterson 25 years ago.

“Even when she was a freshman, she was a starter for us and she was the captain of the team,” he said Friday. “She was small, but she didn’t take a back seat. She could get the girls to do some of the things that I was trying to get them to do.

“Once Victoria stepped on the court, they were like ‘Uh-oh, here comes V! C’mon y’all, you know how V is!’

“And they would buckle up and get it in gear.”

Patterson won the City League title in 1996 and 1997 and each season Jones won first team All-City honors.

In ‘97, as Patterson prepared to meet Dunbar for the crown, it appeared Jones would not play.

“She was broken,” Clark said. “She had torn ligaments in her ankle and it was swollen almost as big as her thigh.

“She couldn’t come to school for a couple of days, so I went by her house and dropped off some ice and told her to soak her foot in a bucket three times a day.

“About a week later she came to the gym and our athletic trainer said, ‘If you can do a figure eight around the center circle, I’ll give you the OK to play.’ She went around it with a limp wheel and got the OK, but Dunbar didn’t know she was ready.

“She jumped out there with determination and perseverance and grit and had 32 points and we won. I’ll never forget that. Dunbar was so surprised, but that’s always been her.

“She was gonna lead that team – no matter what!”

Those same traits followed her to St. Catharine junior college in Springfield, Kentucky, where she won All America honors and then to the University of Dayton, where she was used a three-point specialist and still holds the Flyers’ record for three-point accuracy in a game (6 for 6 versus UTEP in 2000.)

UD head coach Jaci Clark said she gave her the program’s special Inspiration Award because “she beat all odds.”

After coaching stops at Cincinnati State, Murray State and Eureka College in Illinois, Jones took over the Sinclair program and her 2017-18 team went 27-4, finish No. 9 n the nation and she was named the Ohio Community College Athletic Conference (OCCAC) Coach of the Year.

But her biggest test to date has come in the past two years.

In July of 2020, she took over as the Dayton Public Schools athletic director. The COVID-19 pandemic was laying siege to much of our daily life then and along with that virus, she had to deal with the self-inflicted pox that had beset the DPS athletic administration in some previous years.

From 2015 to 2018, the school system was damaged by several sports scandals. There was an administrator’s alleged directive to fix a football game to enhance playoff prospects for another Dayton school, cases of missing ticket monies and a high-profile basketball eligibility snafu.

“Victoria took over the athletic department during a very tough time for the school district,” Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said Friday in reference mainly to the pandemic.

“She had the tenacity, foresight and drive to make sure that athletics ran smoothly and that Ohio High School Athletic Association rules and regulations were followed and students were eligible and able to play. She’s been a very strong and thoughtful leader. She’s doing a fine job.”

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Belmont High School athletes broke ground Wednesday afternoon on the Welcome Stadium renovation projects. The renovation will upgrade the facility, replace the track and field, improve accessibility. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Belmont High School athletes broke ground Wednesday afternoon on the Welcome Stadium renovation projects. The renovation will upgrade the facility, replace the track and field, improve accessibility. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

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Belmont High School athletes broke ground Wednesday afternoon on the Welcome Stadium renovation projects. The renovation will upgrade the facility, replace the track and field, improve accessibility. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

That’s why she was on the tent-covered stage four days ago as DPS held its groundbreaking ceremony for the $11 million renovation of Welcome Stadium, a project that bears some of her fingerprints as does another, ongoing $650,000 project that is upgrading the football practice fields, running tracks and weight rooms at the individual schools in the district.

Much of the funding, said DPS board member Joe Lacey, has come from the $13.4 million the Ohio Department of Education agreed to pay DPS to settle a decade old lawsuit three school districts (Dayton, Cleveland and Toledo) filed over charter schools, miscounted enrollment and insufficient funding.

If her plate wasn’t already overflowing, Jones also is in the process of interviewing candidates to fill the three open associate athletic director positions directly under her purview.

Those vacancies occurred when the school board – in a move not disputed by Jones one departing associate AD told reporters – declined to renew the contracts of the three existing associate athletic directors.

That decision brought out some detractors: those rankled by Jones’s course of action and others who were miffed because she was not the person they tried to make her out to be.

“I had to remind some of them I’m not ‘Little Vickie’ anymore,” she said. “I’m an adult now. I’m educated. I’ve been to other places and worked at private and public and alternative schools. I ran the (Sinclair) program at DCI (Dayton Correctional Institution.) I have learned some different ways of doing things.

“I think Kobe Bryant said it: ‘Leadership can be lonely sometimes.’”

She said she’s not only a woman in what has often been a man’s job, but she is a black woman.

“People have known me here for a long time – some have been in their jobs here 30 and 40 years – and they are used to doing things one way,” she said “And I think there are some people who have a hard time getting a ‘No’ from me.

“Like anyone, I want to be liked. But at the end of the day, I have to do what I believe and what I think is best for our kids.”

An added benefit for some of those kids, especially young girls like those in Wednesday’s crowd –which included Meadowdale girls basketball players, Stivers track and field girls, the Belmont cheerleaders and the Thurgood Marshall jazz musicians – is that they can see a role model in her.

She’s a product of Dayton Pubic Schools.

Once, when Jones was playing at UD, Grant Clark described to me the impact she had. It’s an observation that still holds true today.

“This is such a positive thing,” he said. “Girls in the city here can look at her and see a life that exemplifies what they should be. She shows what you can do no matter what obstacles are in front of you.”

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Victoria Jones is a former head coach of the Sinclair women's basketball team. DDN FILE

Victoria Jones is a former head coach of the Sinclair women's basketball team. DDN FILE

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Victoria Jones is a former head coach of the Sinclair women's basketball team. DDN FILE

‘Now it’s my turn’

Jones grew up at various addresses in West Dayton, including the Summit Court public housing project, First Street and Williams Street.

“Summit Court was a hard core project when I was growing up,” she said. She knew of the crime and violence that sometimes surfaced outside and the meager provisions that could show up on the table inside.

“Yeah, I’m familiar with government cheese,” she said.

“V.J. definitely had major obstacles to overcome in her life,” Loretta Williams, a former Alter and Trotwood coach and Central State advisor who was Jones’ friend once told me. “She experienced poverty, a broken home and other things. Put another person in that kind of situation and they would have crumbled.”

Jones has three siblings. Her oldest brother is in prison now.

She took a far different path. Forced to go the junior college route because she hadn’t always taken the classroom seriously, she blossomed at the most unlikely place.

St. Catharine was a small Roman Catholic school in a rural setting.

“About the only black students you saw were athletes,” she said. “We had nuns and natural food from the farms. It was nothing like how I’d grown up.

“But within about two months, I embraced it and it turned out to be a great experience.”

She won All-America honors and was second in the nation in field goal percentage and fourth in three-point accuracy. She was the student government vice president, an honor society student, a dorm supervisor, was active in campus ministry and was the Homecoming Queen.

She ended up being named St. Catharine’s Student of the Year.

Coming to UD required another adjustment.

“I’d felt like I was Michael Jordan at St. Catharine, but I was Steve Kerr when I got to UD,” she said. “They just wanted me to shoot the three. I think that 5-2 played with them a little bit.

“But I was able to see the big picture. I was still part of a phenomenal team. I played in an awesome arena in my hometown. I got my school paid for and ended up with a quality education that opened doors for me.”

Along with her 18-year coaching career, she taught in the DPS system and served as the site supervisor for Sinclair’s educational program at DCI, the high security women’s state prison off Germantown Pike.

In 2018 she was hired as the athletic director at Euclid High School, northeast of Cleveland.

When the DPS job opened she initially was hesitant. She didn’t want to be a token interview – she’d heard there was a high-profile candidate with DPS ties – and she also had friends who warned her the job could be a risk.

“I was told, ‘Going back there you’re putting your reputation in jeopardy,’” she said.

“I knew there had been some problems before, but I didn’t see it that way. "

While she said the position came with a decent salary, she said he was making the equivalent of that in Euclid and that was running athletics at one school, not six high schools and five middle school programs like she is now.

“It wasn’t a money thing,” she said. “Part of it was about giving back to the community that helped me become who I am.

“It took a village to raise me and now it’s my turn.”

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Ponitz High School athletes checkout the renderings of the Welcome Stadium renovation which was kickoff Wednesday afternoon following a groundbreaking ceremony. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Ponitz High School athletes checkout the renderings of the Welcome Stadium renovation which was kickoff Wednesday afternoon following a groundbreaking ceremony.  JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Combined ShapeCaption
Ponitz High School athletes checkout the renderings of the Welcome Stadium renovation which was kickoff Wednesday afternoon following a groundbreaking ceremony. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

‘A new chapter’ for DPS

Although she’s a month shy of her two-year anniversary on the job, she said it seems like it’s been a lot longer.

Just as she was leading the program out of the pandemic, she was immersed in the expansive renovation project.

“I was telling Dr. Lolli, ‘This is not normal to have so many projects happening at once,’ but she said something so simple that made me see it,” Jones recalled. “She said, ‘It’s about time, Victoria. We’ve been outdated for a very long time. Our students deserve better.’”

Jones noted that the entire community will benefit from the Welcome Stadium make-over. It will be accessible for all kinds of possibilities for people. And with the upgrades it will also attract other events and bring money back to DPS and the city.

Monday she’s meeting with a Cincinnati area athletics director who selects venues for state tournaments. The hope is to return the state track and field championships which were held at Welcome Stadium from 1999-2003.

Wednesday, one speaker after another stressed how this was “a new chapter” for Dayton students.

“We experienced some greatness today,” Jones said afterward. “This was a historic moment.”

And let’s just say she dressed for that moment.

“I’m still 5-foot-2, but today I was a little taller because I had on heels,” she laughed.

Truth is, it’s not just the shoes that raised her up. It’s that “determination and perseverance and grit,” that Grant Clark talked about from so long ago.

Either way, “Little Vickie” is no more.

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