Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Story of Robert Lee Jones

Tom Casey has a story in today's Register-Star about classmates who, more than fifty years after his death, organized to raise money to place a headstone on the grave of a Hudson High School football player who died during a game in the fall of 1958: "Finally at peace."

The story of the tragic death of high school senior Robert Lee Jones is told in Jewels of Moments: An Educator's Fifty-Year Recollection: 1950-2000, the memoir written by Alan W. Sugarman, who was the principal of Hudson High School when the incident occurred. In his memoir, Sugarman recalls how he learned the shocking news of the student's death: 
On Friday evening September 19, 1958, our football team was scheduled to play Catholic Central at Troy. For some reason, I do not recall, I did not attend the game, which I normally would have since my practice was to ride the team bus to almost all away games for football and basketball. That Friday evening I was at home with my family when around 10:30 p.m. I received a call from our head football coach announcing that one of our team members, Robert Jones, had been hurt on the last play of the game "and he's dead!" 
Sugarman's memoir provides some insight into why Jones' grave in Cedar Park Cemetery had, up until now, no headstone.
Robert's mother appeared to be incapable of handling the funeral, and therefore I took care of and supervised all of the details. The ceremony was to occur at the First Reformed Church on Wednesday, September 24th, and school was to be closed an hour early to allow students to attend. I further made arrangements at a local cemetery for burial, as Mrs. Jones directed. As I recall, I do not think she was present at either moment, probably because of her extreme and understandable upset.
Sugarman recalls that the question of how Robert Jones died on the football field remained unanswered for some time and reports what "after considerable investigation" was finally determined:
The coach had always advised very strongly that, before a game, particularly, players should eat lightly, if at all.
On the other hand, Robert's mother emphatically stated that he had not eaten before he left home, yet his death was unequivocally determined to be caused by his strangling on his own vomit as a result of the pressure caused by the pile-up.
His team-mates finally came forward to solve the problem. Halfway to Troy the team bus stopped at a combination convenience grocery and gas station for gas. Several of the players including Robert had sneaked off the bus and Robert had purchased a hot dog, which he then ate on the bus as it continued on to Troy. Had that unfortunate act not occurred, his death would most probably not have happened.
Sugarman goes on to say, "A few kids approached me about placing a portrait of Robert in the main hall [of what is now Montgomery C. Smith Intermediate School], but nothing ever came of the suggestion." It's touching that, more than fifty years later, Robert Lee Jones is being remembered and memorialized by his classmates and teammates.

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