Jones Senior to open Matchbox one final time
TRENTON — The Matchbox may be set to be torn down, but the memories will last forever.
On Friday at 6:30 p.m., there will be a series of farewell games at the old Jones Senior High School gym. Players can sign up at the event and the games will have a pickup feel in different age groups. If there are enough participants, there will also be a slam dunk contest, 3-point shootout and girls’ game.
The price of admission is $2 and the gym will be open at 5:30 p.m. for a shootaround session. Concessions will be available and all proceeds will go toward Jones Senior athletics.
With the old gym set for demolition in the coming months, Jones Senior baseball coach Jason Barker said he has numerous memories growing up in the area.
“It’s the best environment I’ve seen,” Barker said. “I’ve played, I’ve coached, I’ve officiated high school basketball in a lot of places and nothing compares to playing games or watching games in the old Matchbox. It was just a different atmosphere — the loudest crowd, the hottest gym. It was so packed, you had feet up to the out of bounds line all around the court.
“Every night was a show — the crowd was in it, the Bowtie Gang was hyping them up, players were always hyped up to play. I’ve talked to a lot of people I officiated with and when they find out I’m from Jones Senior, they say ‘Man, did you ever play in The Matchbox?’ It’s the first thing they ask and they miss it because they loved calling games.”
Steven Lawson was a sophomore during Jones Senior’s last conference championship in the 2008-09 season and said it meant even more to him being a product of The Matchbox.
“I’ve been in here since at least 1998,” Lawson said. “I was the waterboy in 2001 and my aunt coined the phrase ‘refuse to lose’ back when Coach (Al) Hobbs was here. I played rec ball here, high school ball and started my AAU team. It’s called The Matchbox because of how hot it is — the floor would be sweating and it would be real loud. It’s a wild environment, and not too many people came in here and got a win.”
Another former player, Demaris Hargett, played for the Trojans from 2003-06 and said the gym was unlike any other.
“The first home game I ever experienced in The Matchbox was because of my uncle J.C.,” Hargett said. “He was a point guard for the Trojans and one day he took me to the back where the locker rooms were, and I saw younger kids playing with a basketball. It was at that moment, I wanted to be a part of the magic that happens in that gym. It was like seeing the next generation of stars that would one day wear the Blue and White. I wanted to be one of those kids, and fate made it happen.
“From being a spectator to being a player, the feeling one gets entering that gymnasium on any home game is enough to get anyone on their feet — a contagious energy and a sense of putting on for home. Win or lose, the support of everyone in the community kept every group that followed pumped up and motivated to do their best. Coach Kenny Brown would always say as we ran out of locker rooms for warmups ‘What time is it?!’ No matter where I am, my heart screams out ‘Game Time!’”
Dexter Cannon, the current boys’ basketball coach, carved his niche in Jones Senior history. Cannon is the only former boys’ player to have his jersey retired by the school, is the lone 2,000-point scorer in Trojans history and helped guide the team to a 1A state championship win in 1993 with an MVP performance. Cannon said the ambiance of The Matchbox played a significant role throughout the championship season.
“To me, playing here was like having our own sixth man,” Cannon said. “The crowd was always behind us, getting you pumped up and ready to play. Some of our opponents complained about how hot it was, but when you have a small gym and so many people in there, there was going to be some heat to the area. We were used to it and it was an advantage — on the road though, opponents would try to make the gyms as cold as they could.
“Our fans were loyal, and followed us wherever we went. I don’t know if we were that good or The Matchbox intimidated people that much, but there was a solid combination there.”