by Chad Vignes
LSU Sports Information
This is the second in a series of six stories profiling the members of the 2009 class of the LSU Athletic Hall of Fame.
It might have been easy to become egotistical after winning four individual NCAA championships and a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics, but vanity is not one of Esther Jones’ qualities.
For the most decorated track athlete in LSU history, humility outweighs the dozens of titles, championships and other honors Jones has received throughout her track career.
“I don’t necessarily want to be remembered for a mark in sports,” Jones, who sprinted at LSU from 1988-91, said. “I’d rather be remembered as someone who enjoyed people and someone who enjoyed the experience of hard work and dedication.”
Jones will be inducted into this year’s LSU Athletics Hall of Fame along with five other Tiger greats on March 10 at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center. Other inductees include long-time LSU trainer Dr. Martin J. Broussard, legendary football and track coach Bernie Moore, football All-American Anthony "Booger" McFarland, renowned basketball and baseball coach Harry Rabenhorst and softball All-American Britni Sneed.
Tuesday night's 2009 LSU Hall of Fame Banquet is sponsored by Moniotte Investments, Deumite Construction, and Rabenhorst Funeral Homes.
Humble beginnings propelled Jones into sprinting. She grew up as one of ten children with one sister and eight brothers. The Milwaukee native said running was an inescapable way of life as a child.
“I grew up in a household with a lot of brothers who played sports,” Jones said. “I guess from being around so much football and kickball and other sports I developed athletic ability from just being your average tomboy.”
Family was always a big part of Jones’ life. In fact, she admitted it was a family decision that brought her to LSU.
“I was recruited by LSU along with a lot of other schools,” Jones said. “But I chose LSU because I knew my mother and father really wanted me to go there. They liked LSU the best; I think the coaches won them over.”
Sam Seemes, interim head coach in 1987, recalled Jones as a special recruit that boosted the LSU track program from solid to premier.
“Esther was probably one of the first -- and I’m hesitant to say the first -- big-time national female recruits LSU signed out of high school,” Seemes recalled in an interview with the Baton Rouge Advocate in 2007. “It was big for the program because she was a person who was nationally recruited by everybody.”
Jones didn’t disappoint Seemes’ expectations as she helped lead the Lady Tigers to four outdoor national titles and two indoor national titles from 1988-91.
Individually, Jones won six SEC titles, the outdoor 100 meter twice, the outdoor 200 meter twice and the indoor 200 meter twice.
She is a 21-time All-American, with individual national titles in the 1990 outdoor 100 meter and 200 meter. Her best time in the outdoor 100 meter was 11.11 seconds and her best time in the outdoor 200 meter was 22.49 seconds.
In 1990, Jones received the Honda Award, presented annually for outstanding achievement in women’s college athletics. In that year she became only the sixth woman to receive the James J. Corbett Memorial Award, which is presented annually to the top amateur athlete in Louisiana. It is named for late LSU athletic director, James Corbett.
The intangible aspects, not the individual accomplishments, are what Jones appreciates the most about her experience as an athlete.
“There’s more to sports than breaking records and achieving success,” Jones said. “It’s a lot of character building and teaches you sportsmanship, teamwork and decency and I’ve carried those things with me throughout my life.”
With individual-competitor events garnering the majority of the sport’s attention, teamwork is a word that is rarely synonymous with track. But the area where Jones had much of her success was in the relay events.
Jones won four SEC outdoor 4 x 100-meter relay titles and two NCAA outdoor 4 x 100 titles in 1989 and ’90. She was also part of a team that set an American record in the 4 x 200 relay in 1989 with a time of 1 minute, 32.57 seconds. In that same year, Jones anchored a 4 x 100 relay team that set a collegiate record of 42.50 second- a record that still stands to this day.
Arguably her biggest accomplishment came at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain when Jones won a gold medal with the U.S 4 x 100-meter relay team.
Her commitment to teamwork and her noticeable humility shined in one particular experience at LSU. In 1989, after a marvelous freshman year, Jones encountered some national competition on her own team.
“Esther was a sophomore when probably the best female sprinter in the world at that time transferred to LSU,” Seemes said of Dawn Sowell, who would go on to win three individual outdoor national titles and set LSU school records in the outdoor 100 and 200 meters.“It would have been real easy for Esther to get jealous and to go undercover and take a step back.
“But she showed the class person she was. She may not have been the best sprinter on her team that season, but she used that experience to grow. She didn’t go sit on the sideline when that would have been very easy to do.”
Pat Henry, LSU head coach from 1988-2004, also valued Esther for the person she was on and off the track.
“She was a very quiet, humble young lady, and that suited her personality,” Henry told the Baton Rouge Advocate in 2007. “That’s how she carried herself. She was very ladylike, but she was competitive when she got on the track.
“Esther was just very determined to be successful, and she always had an air of confidence about her.”
“I had so much fun at LSU,” Jones said. “It was a great time in life and I’m thrilled and honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
There’s no question that Jones’ accomplishments on the track are hall of fame worthy, but more than that is her hall of fame character.