The thing about wrestling is you may get pinned on one night, but you get up and work harder to pin the other guy the next.
That is the definition of how local businessman Allan Jones feels about the sport of wrestling and the lessons he learned from being involved in the sport has led him well through life and business.
Because of that special connection, the Tennessee chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame will award Jones with its “Outstanding American” award Aug. 20 in Chattanooga.
“It is an honor to receive this,” Jones said.
“I was at Arnold Junior High School and played basketball. I was OK at basketball, but left the team,” he said adding with a laugh. “I had failed a few subjects. I’m not a quitter, I was fired by coach Lou Underdown.”
Jones went out for wrestling his freshman year.
“I remember the first year we had a football coach as a coach,” he recalled. “We had the fastest player of all time, Robert Ware. We met jumping center against each other.”
The two came out together for the wrestling team.
“He was better than me in basketball and a lot better than me in football,” he said. “In wrestling, I could tell I could be better than him.”
With another laugh he said, “After I proved that to him, he quit.”
Jones said he found himself enjoying the sport, actually starting on the varsity team when he was a freshman.
“In my first match, I was overweight and had to lose weight from 140 to 138,” he said. “I think I had forgotten to lose weight. So, I missed my first match and the second string would up winning it.”
Jones said his first match in his sophomore year was in front of the student body.
“I remember this vividly,” he said. “A guy named Steve Eller from Hixon was the opponent. The whole student body was watching and I pinned him. After I pinned him, that’s when I realized I really liked this. I worked hard at it.”
The event which motivated Jones to help ensure Cleveland had the best teams possible was in his junior year under their football coach, Bo Elliott.
“For the years I was on the team, the coaches were football coaches and not wrestling coaches,” he said. “So, I am going down to wrestle McCallie in my senior year, which had a whole staff of college-level wrestling coaches without the help.”
Jones does not hold a great deal of affection remembering coach Elliott who was coach during is junior year.
“He knew I was the best wrestler and tried to get me to start a fight on the football field. I refused to do that, so we started off on the wrong foot,” he said.
Jones was on the team with Jim DiGennaro, who later became the SEC champion at the University of Georgia.
“We are at the region tournament my junior year under coach Elliot and if we won the next match — and mine was the easy match — we go to the state tournament,” he recalled.
He recalled the coach calling them in and telling them. “You know if you win this next match, you’ll be going to the state tournament. You know if you go to the state tournament, you’re going to have to practice for another week. If you have to practice another week, that means I’ll have to come and be at practice for another week. You do not want me to have to work another week. If you do, it will be the worst week of your life. So, you know what you’re going to have to do, don’t you?”
He said the two responded, “Yes, sir.” The coach walked out of the room.
Jones’ match was first “and we were demanded to throw our matches.”
There is a photo of Jones wrestling “a guy I could just kill.”
“DiGennaro had an opponent with which he could lose and nobody would know he threw the match,” Jones said. “Mine was going to be obvious.”
“He runs off the mat. I’m thinking I’m going to win and DiGennaro’s going to lose and I’m going to be stuck [with the coach] by myself the next week,” he recalled.
“In desperation, I drag him by the foot and drag him to the center of the mat,” Jones said. “The paper snaps the picture and I jump underneath him. That picture shows the match I threw.”
Jones said that was a turning point for him. He decided “that would never happen again.”
“My dad wanted me to go with him to the state tournament. I never told my parents,” he said. “My dad said I could have won that championship and it was killing me to know I had to throw that match.”
Jones said it is fortunate Elliott was not hired back for the next year.
During Jones’ senior year, another coach came in, Duane Schriver who was from New York “and talked funny.”
Schriver had been at the University of Tennessee for baseball and had taken over for coach Bill Talley.
Jones said the first match under the new coach was against McCallie.
“We are a horrible team and McCallie has a whole slew of college wrestling coaches,” he said. “Schriver had wrestled very little in high school and we knew more than he did.”
“He kept telling us we can beat these guys and me and DiGennaro thought we were going to get killed by these guys,” he said.
When Jones stepped on the mat, it was 52-0.
“I was the best wrestler on our team and my opponent was their worst,” he recalled. “I absolutely annihilated him. For all these years, I’ve been trying to find him to apologize.”
He and DiGennaro win and they retire to the locker room “to get our usual butt-chewing.”
“This was the turning point for wrestling at Cleveland High School when Duane Schriver said, ‘Guys, I need to apologize to you. I’m new at this and don’t know much about this. You were not outwrestled tonight. I was outcoached. I talked to those other guys. They have a middle school program. We don’t. All of those guys are college coaches. I’m not.’”
Jones said Schriver said if the players would stick with him, they would never be put in that position again.
“By 1981, Schriver wins the state championship and turns things around,” Jones said. “He did it by caring about the kids and by making sure he got the best out of each kid he could. Your best match you wrestled may not be one you won, and he understood that.”
Schriver brought in an assistant, Al Miller, who had previously wrestled at Cleveland High. and was a wrestler at UTC.
“I have been motivated that these kids never face Bo Elliot again,” Jones said.
He said part of making Cleveland competitive again was to get Bradley Central to start a wrestling team.
“I couldn’t make Cleveland competitive unless Bradley was competitive. We had this rivalry going,” Jones said. “That’s what makes these two schools good — being competitive with each other.”
“Bo Elliott gets credit for motivating me for all of that and all of my donations to the sport to ensuring wrestlers do not have to face another coach like him,” Jones said with a laugh. “As a result, Cleveland and Bradley County have become the capital of wrestling.”
In speaking of the award, Jones goes back to what the sport of wrestling has done for him.
“It taught me how to push myself harder,” Jones said. “When you think you can’t go any harder, you can go harder.”
He the only way to compete was to be in better shape than his competitor.
“I would go out and run after practice,” he said. “I would run and I would jog and work my rear off to put myself in good shape so when third period came, I had a lot of horsepower.”
“I couldn’t learn wrestling because I didn’t have anyone to teach it,” Jones added. “But, I could put myself in good condition.”
“Wrestling taught me how to drive myself,” he said. “It also taught me character. It’s not people who win a wrestling match — when I was winning my senior year, that was easy — what was hard is the freshman year when I was 0 and how ever many matches I wrestled. I would lose in front of my girlfriend or my parents and force myself to come back and do it again and do it again and do it again.”
“That’s what teaches character,” Jones said. “It’s easy when you’re a winner to go out there, but what’s hard is after you’ve lost to keep pushing yourself and pushing yourself.”
Print subscribers have FREE access to clevelandbanner.com by registering HERE
Non-subscribers have limited monthly access to local stories, but have options to subscribe to print, web or electronic editions by clicking HERE
We are sorry but you have reached the maximum number of free local stories for this month. If you have a website account here, please click HERE to log in for continued access.
If you are a print subscriber but do not have an account here, click HERE to create a website account to gain unlimited free access.
Non-subscribers may gain access by subscribing to any of our print or electronic subscriptions HERE