By Arthur Cotterell
Here in Summit we've had championship high school basketball teams several times throughout the 20th century. Many of these championship teams were the boys teams, although in the later years the girls teams had begun to establish a tradition of their own. Many people may think that girls high school varsity teams are a relatively recent innovation which came about as a result of the passage of Title IX in the last quarter of the 20th century (Title IX had mandated equal opportunities for girls and boys in interscholastic sports). However, a recent search of the files at the Carter House reveals that Summit High School had championship teams, girls championship teams, many, many years before Title IX was ever thought of.
In the 1918-1919 school year the girls basketball at Summit High won the championship of the Morris and Essex League (interesting that the Union County school was playing in a Morris and Essex League!). The team came up to the last week of the season need- ing two wins to gain the title outright. The Summit Herald of March 14, 1919 reported that the Summit girls first defeated Dover by a 48-10 score and followed that victory up with a season-closing win over West Orange, 30-21, giving them a clear-cut championship of the league. Further reading in later editions of the paper indicated that the team had finished with a record of eight wins and only one loss. Another interesting statistic was that the team had not lost a game on its own court in over three years!
A picture of the team appeared later in the Newark Sunday Call identifying the seven girls who played on the team: Muriel Haviland, Marguerite Seiler, Billie Finnegan, Ruth Hall, Clara McNab, Marguerite Byrne and Florence Anderson. And who was the coach of this team? Looking at the accompanying picture with this article it would be hard to tell if the individual was not identified. Standing in the back row at the right is Miss Grace Jones, who looks to be one of the players.
If the story of a championship girls basketball team is an interesting one, the story of their coach, Grace Jones, is an even more interesting one. Miss Jones, at the age of 22, had come to teach in Summit in 1916 from the physical education department of the East Stroudsburg Normal School. She was the only physical education teacher in the whole school system, which in that year numbered 1,616 students. She was made supervisor of physical education in 1927 when a second "phys-ed" teacher was hired, a position she held until her retirement in 1957 after completing a 41 year teaching career. By 1957 the total school system enrollment had reached 4,266 students. In that time she had organized what had become the physical education program for the city's schools. At the time of her retirement, she was the only woman to head a physical education department in New Jersey.
An interesting sidelight to Miss Jones being hired in 1916 was told to me by-Howie Anderson; longtime football coach and athletic director at Summit High School. Howie was hired in 1956, the final year of Grace Jones' teaching career. At the time, it was customary to take the new teachers on a bus ride around Summit to introduce them to the community. Miss Jones told Howie that when she was hired they were doing the same thing, the only difference being that she was taken around the town by horse and buggy!
Grace Jones was widely known throughout the country for her work in physical education. Upon her death in 1977 at the age of 83, the Summit Herald had this to say about her well known reputation: "Besides her pioneering efforts in the field of physical education, Miss Jones was a nationally known authority on women's basketball rules. For six years from 1924 to 1930, she was the editor of the official basketball guide for women and girls. During that time the first official guide was translated into Spanish for use in South America. In 1939 Miss Jones was elected a Fellow of the American Association for Health, Physical Education and Recreation. She had been included in Who's Who in American Education, Who's Who in the East and American." Little did the girls know in 1919 as they were playing basketball for their coach what a famous person she was to become.
I'm sure that there are still people in Summit who remember Miss Grace Jones, better known to many as "Jonesey". Her strict commands and no-nonsense leadership brought her respect, and she will be long remembered by the three generations of local residents whom she taught.