Challenge Accepted | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Ronnie Woodward.

Grandfather and U.S. Navy veteran Morris Jones used an academic challenge with his oldest grandson to help motivate him to earn his degree. (Photos by Cliff Hollis and Rhett Butler)

    An academic challenge from a few years ago between pre-teenage Jordan and grandfather Morris Jones was intended to be a motivational tool for the youngster.

    Now 55 and graduating with a Bachelor of Science in physical education, it is Jones, however, who relied on determination and encouragement in his journey from Navy veteran to East Carolina University graduate. After his service as an aviation storekeeper, Jones established himself as a youth sports coach in eastern North Carolina and later enrolled at Pitt Community College preceding a transfer to ECU.

    When Jones walks as an ECU graduate, many years older than his peers, 12-year-old Jordan will be one of the proud family members in attendance. Jones has three children and four grandchildren.

    "I told him that I could get better grades than you can and I started it and thought, 'Man, I might have made a mistake,' but I couldn't quit," Jones said. "I couldn't quit because I didn't want him to see that. The ball just kept rolling."

    As a veteran coach and budding teacher, Jones' ball-rolling reference is fitting.

    He has coached Jordan in football, basketball and baseball since he was 4 years old. He has mentored many others as a coach at Rocky Mount Academy and Elm City Middle School. Adding the role of student teacher at Springfield Middle School in Lucama helped him grow in certain areas.

    "The PE side is like coaching and it's relatable and there's not many sports I don't know," said Jones, a 1986 high school graduate who left the U.S. Navy in 1994 and moved back to Wilson. "The health part has been interesting. It's new and you're dealing with sixth graders who just came from elementary school versus an eighth grader who has been there for two years. It's different levels of communication. ... Prior to student teaching, I spent many mornings at 4 or 5 o'clock in the library trying to get things done and find answers. I would come to campus early and do some work in the library and then go to class."

    Jones' coaching career was sparked by his daughter, Brooke, playing softball.

    "You know how it is when they start playing recreation ball," Jones said. "They need someone to volunteer. That's when my coaching career began."

    He is now adding ECU graduate to his unique resume.

    "I guess I'm not your typical college student," Jones said. "I've lived my life and took the military path first and started a family and now back in school with grandkids on top of it. ... There's been days I wanted to just throw in the towel and say, 'Jordan, you got this one. Granddaddy can't take it anymore.' But I've had a lot of people encouraging me."
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