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Former Seventy-First basketball coach addresses school board

Tony Jones says he was never given a reason for being relieved of his coaching duties.


The former head boys’ basketball coach at Seventy-First High School who was relieved of his duties after one season urged the Cumberland County Board of Education on Tuesday night to take “a hard look at the leadership” at the school.

Tony Jones, 29, was relieved of his duties on March 23. As head coach, Jones took the Seventy-First team to the state 3A championship game.

Others also spoke on behalf of Jones during the public comments portion of the school board’s regular monthly meeting.

A news release from Cumberland County Schools on March 24 said Principal Myron Williams made the decision “after Williams discovered in the days leading up to and following the championship game that he and Coach Jones did not share the same vision for Seventy-First High School.”

Jones remains employed as a physical education teacher at the school off Raeford Road.

Jones said he was never given a real reason for his dismissal as coach.

“This past season we made a historic run,” he said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We had great young men and accomplished something that hasn’t been done in 20 years at Seventy-First. We made the state championship game and I had scholar-athletes on the team and, consequently, I was relieved of my duties as a head coach to my surprise. Coaching has been my passion for the last seven or eight years. I’m just frustrated and discouraged by the public schools system. There has to be some form of checks and balances to prevent unjust situations to occur.

“I did nothing but try to provide my guys with the best experience possible and having someone that had a different vision than what I had made things difficult,” Jones said. “My main question is, ‘What is the principal’s vision for the program for this school?’ Secondly, I would like to ask the superintendent, ‘How can he have a principal who relieves his head coach after a historic year and had nothing but the kids’ interests in mind?’ All I wanted was an opportunity for the guys to play at the next level and to be well prepared for life.”

Seventy-First lost to West Charlotte, 83-75, in the 3A boys’ title game that was played at Reynolds Coliseum on the campus of N.C. State University in Raleigh. Jones’ team compiled a 27-5 record en route to winning the conference regular season, the conference tournament and the Eastern regionals to reach the state final.

Subsequently, Jones was named District 4 Coach of the Year.

“It’s hard how this thing went down,” he said after the board meeting.

Williams, reached on Tuesday night, said he had already commented on his decision.

In the release from the school system, Williams said: “We are grateful to Mr. Jones for his contributions to the Seventy-First High School boys basketball program. While we have made the decision to move in a different direction, this change does not diminish the work that Mr. Jones did to lead the team to win the 3A Regional Championship.”

In Cumberland County Schools, coaching is classified as an extra-duty assignment, and changes to extra-duty assignments, which expire annually, are made at the discretion of the principal, the release said.

Superintendent Marvin Connelly Jr. could not be reached for comment after the meeting.

Before Jones spoke, former Seventy-First athlete Dwayne “Hollywood” Pelham and a Fayetteville resident spoke on his behalf. Pelham said he drove five hours from Atlanta to stress to Connelly and the board members that there are concerns from the Seventy-First alumni regarding “the toxic situation that exists currently at our beloved Seventy-First High School.”

Pelham is an Appalachian State University football hall of famer. He also is a former teacher and former high school football coach in Cumberland County. He is now a federal agent.

He said over the last decade, the academic performance rate at Seventy-First has averaged out to be a grade of C.

“That should be concerning enough,” Pelham told the board. “I’m not here today to attack anyone individual … regarding the current state of the Seventy-First basketball program.”

“Without a doubt,” he said, “I speak for many Seventy-First alumni when I say we support Coach Jones in every way conceivable. In one year, the young man did a whale of a job, and we salute him … The kids, alumni and surrounding Seventy-First community deserve better leadership at Seventy-First High School than we are receiving.”

Anthony Davis of Fayetteville noted how Jones’ team achieved a cumulative 3.1 grade point average. His son played for Jones.

“You’re talking about a coach that you have five kids with a 3.5 GPA average or higher. My kid is one of those. You’re talking about a total team average – and I’m talking about Seventy-First basketball – you’re talking about a total team average of 3.1.

“We all do support Coach Jones,” he added.

Jones’ father, James Thomas Jones, also spoke before the board, saying “If you’re terminated from your job, you should be given a reason.”

“I just say to everybody, do the right thing,” James Thomas Jones concluded.

In other business, the board approved the five-year fiscal 2023-27 Capital Improvement Plan resolution as a consent item on a 6-3 vote. Board members Deanna Jones, Judy Musgrave and Charles McKellar voted in opposition to the resolution as it is currently worded.

McKellar said he thought the county Board of Commissioners would feel insulted by the wording that gave them options on how they could possibly get the necessary grant money to pay for the schools' capital improvements. Others felt differently.

On March 31, the board’s Auxiliary Services Committee voted unanimously to ask the county for more than $470 million for capital improvements to replace and renovate schools over the next five years. The funding would cover the construction of seven new schools and the replacement or renovation of 18 others.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView TODAY. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com. Have a news tip? Email news@CityViewTODAY.com.

Cumberland County, Cumberland County Schools, Seventy-First High School, boys' basketball coach