Rendville’s very own Jerry Jackson sits down with Little Cities of Black Diamonds interviewer Jim Workman to discuss his early years as a high school All-American turned powerhouse who would eventually earn his shot at a scholarship to Ohio University.
ARTICLE BY TROI STAPLES
It’s no secret that the town of Rendville is a history maker all in itself; yet the small village located inside of the Wayne National Forrest has also produced quite a few historical figures also. Sophia Mitchell, the first African American female Mayor in Ohio, and Dr. Isaiah Tuppins, the first African American to receive a medical degree in Ohio just to name a few. Needless to say, Corning high school All-American turned pro basketball player Jerry Jackson is in pretty good company. Jackson who currently serves as president of The Rendville Historical Preservation Society sat down with Jim Workman to give readers a glimpse into his humble beginnings playing one-on-one ball to leading the O.U. Bobcats to victory in the 1964 NCAA tournament.
Jerry Jackson: I was raised in a small town and we had a lot of recruiters in from all the Big 10 schools and the mid-American conference schools.
Jim Workman: So, in addition to the recruiters and the media and those statistics you have, that’s how the word got out about Jerry Jackson?
JW: Well congratulations. A high school all-American is a pretty rare feat. Jerry, tell us about how you ended up where you did instead of at a Big 10 school.
JJ: Well, my grandmother has a lot to do with that, okay. You know I was around cause I liked to eat, and she liked to cook. So, I was grandma’s boy. But anyway, the coaches from OU would come up and they weren’t actually allowed to talk to you,
“they would sit back in their cars out in the middle of the road and watch us play one-on-one, two-on-two and what not.“– Jerry Jackson on his early years being scouted
And my, uhh, the coaches they were talking to my mother and my grandmother. And my grandmother really liked Coach Snider and Coach Blosser. She would tell me that they were really interested in you and they’re looking out for your betterment and plus OU is only down the road.
JW: Did your grandmother go see your games?
JJ: My grandmother, all the time I was playing, she never saw a game. Never saw a game. She would read the newspapers though. And my grandfather would hang out on the corners in Garrison’s hardware store and he would hang out there and Mr. Garrison would tell him how I was doing in Athens. ( ) But my mother, I never saw my mother watch one of my games but she was at a lot of the games. She would sneak down and watch me play but she would never tell me so I never got to see her in the crowd at all but I knew she was there.
JW: Now Jerry, out of curiosity, what Big 10 teams did express an interest in you?
JJ: Ohio State, Indiana, and Michigan and uh Wisconsin.
JW: Are you telling me that you would have had a chance to play with Jerry Jackson Lucas and John Haber, Melvin Knoll something, and Bobby Knight?
JJ: Yeah, I would have had a chance if I would have went.
JW: Did they offer you a scholarship?
JJ: Oh, yeah.
JW: Well, you would have made the team. So, you ended up going to Ohio University and as the proverbial saying goes you put OU on the map in basketball. Tell us a little bit about some of your accomplishments as a basketball player down at Ohio University. Now, you couldn’t play your freshman year?
JJ: Freshman were ineligible to play.
JW: So, you played a total of three years on the varsity?
JJ: Yes, three years on the varsity.
JW: Well, tell us a little bit about … You started to tell us a little bit about your positions. Now, there’s five positions on a basketball team. Center, power forward, small forward, shooting guard, and point guard. Which position do you feel you played the most at OU?
JJ: I played mostly shooting guard and forward. And I also played a little bit of center, depending on who we were playing. But I played practically every position depending on the type of ball team that we were playing and where their weaknesses were.
JW: Now Jerry when did you realize that your team had something special that you collectively could do something special with them?
JJ: Probably about my junior year. My Freshman year the Freshman recruiting class was one of the best in the state. We had 2 players from Canton, Ohio: Dave Perry and John Namsue. And Paul Storey got recruited out of Xenia that year. Anyway, OU had out-recruited all other Colleges with the class in 1960
JW: That’s the class you came in?
JJ: That’s the class I came in. But during freshman year, we lost a couple of players they weren’t satisfied especially with the amount of time that went in and who was playing ahead of them. So, some of them transferred. So, by the time I got to be a junior, we had jelled with the players who had stayed, especially three of them and new players coming in. And then Charlie Gill worked his way into the starting lineup about our senior year. Charlie was the only one without a scholarship but by the time he was a junior and a senior he had a full scholarship.
JW: Well, tell us who the starting five was or the starting six maybe, name your teammates.
JJ: Well that would be, my senior year, myself, Charlie Gill. Charlie Gill and I played guard. And Don Hilt, Mike Haley were the forwards and then Paul Storey at center, probably the sixth man was Tom Davis. So, by the time that we were seniors we hung out together, we practiced together, it was just like we knew everybody’s move. We knew what play was surrounding who was gonna do what and we knew we just jelled really well together.
JW: Now Jerry Jackson you were playing in the mid America conference back then. And what were your statistics then? Your shooting and rebound statistics?
JJ: Approximately well my junior year I had 14 a game and then my junior year was like 15. And my senior year I had 17 a game. So I led the team in scoring all three years, now, however I was not the top scorer every game. Everybody shared. I guess I was the top scorer in most of the games.
JW: That’s probably why your team was so successful though.
“Yeah, we had four of the five players had double figures. “-Jerry on the success of the 1964 Ohio Univ. Team
JW: And yeah that is what we call a team effort
JW: Now, Jerry, I understand that when you weren’t playing basketball, you worked in the cafeteria. Is that right?
JJ: That’s right.
JW: And I understand that your job in the cafeteria was to serve milk.
JW: Is that right?
JW: And I understand that when people came through, they could only have one bottle of milk.
JJ: Well, that’s part true. That was a stipulation of it.
JW: So, you were the enforcer, right?
JJ: Well, sure.
JW: And I understand thought that a young lady though would come through that line and somehow, she got an exception to that rule.
JJ: Well, yes, uh.
JW: Do you remember her name?
JJ: Well, yes, her name was Anita Frank and at the time I was seeing her.
JW: And you later married her?
JJ: I married her about 53 years ago. She’s over here.
JW: I think that milk had something to do with it, Jerry. She certainly remembered that. That was cheap. Gonna see more than a bottle of milk, right?
JW: Okay, well, I often wondered how you two met and now I know. So anyway that senior year, 1964, I believe that’s what is was, that was a pretty special year for Ohio University and Jerry Jackson and so I want to ask you, in fact I’ve got some notes here that says you won 21 games that year.
JJ: Yeah, we won 21 games that year.
JW: That’s the most in OU’s history?
JJ: At that time that was the most in OU’s history.
JJ: We won 21 some games.
JW: Then, the real accomplishment OU reached the final four of the NCAA basketball that year. Is that right, Jerry? Tell us about that.
JJ: That year we were one of the final teams left in the nation. So that was the farthest that they’ve gone. That set a record and it hasn’t been beaten yet. It was tied by Princeton or Kent state, I think, in the later ‘90s. That’s one of the records that we still hold the 1964 team.
JW: For the mid-American conference?
JJ: For the mid-American conference. It’s still there. Four of the five players are in the Hall of Fame at OU.
“There is no other team in history that has four players from the same team in the Hall of Fame.”
JJ: That’s quite abnormal.
JW: What do you think the secret to that team was?
“Knowing each other. Just not only on the court but off the court.”–Jerry on the secret to the team’s chemistry
JJ: To this day we still meet at least once or twice a year in Athens. Have a little reunion. If we don’t meet in Athens, we will meet on the golf course somewhere. We stay in contact with each other. And if there’s something special that one of us is having then we all try to go to that thing. Weddings or children graduations we try to go.
JW: Have any of the other players passed away?
JJ: Out of the first five there’s only three of us that are left. Out of the whole team there are 6 or 7 that are deceased.
H I S T O R I C A L M O V E S
JW: Now, Jerry, you played basketball right dab in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement. And from 1954 until 1968, this country went through a turbulent period of race relations. Tell us a little bit about what you remember as a basketball player when your team would travel. Especially, I guess my question is, how often would you travel south of the Mason-Dixon line? That is the OU basketball team.
JJ: The furthest that we would travel south during that time would be to Louisville or Kentucky. At that time, we didn’t know the reason why. If we were going out East, we would go to New York and play Saint-Johns and Army. On going west, we traveled as far west as Iowa. But the coaches knew what was going on at the time. So, they knew where to put us and where to travel. Especially having three African Americans during my senior year. And they were all traveling with the team at that time.
JW: How did the Jim Crow laws affect your team?
JJ: Uh, I don’t think, well, there was a … The coaches knew to, uh, especially when we traveled well, uh, when we traveled to New York City and, stayed not to tell us but the barracks of the Army base there we stayed in motels outside of the town where we were playing.
JW: And what was the reason for that?
JJ: Well because they weren’t ready for black players to stay in their hotels.
JW: So even if you’re a basketball team, if you have black basketball players on the team they couldn’t stay at that hotel?
JW: And so you probably ran into a lot of racial segregation then?
JJ: yes we did at that time. That was at a time we didn’t know that was going on until we looked back on it years later. The reason, why did we go here, that was the reason. But we didn’t know it.
JW: Now, Jerry, we certainly know what racial relations was like on the outside what was it like inside the team? What was it like among your coaching staff and your teammates? Your race relations?
JJ: Uh, race relations. I don’t really believe that, I have been lucky that all my coaches played their players. From high school coach Burger played ball players. If you were good enough to be on the court, then you were on the court.
JW: Didn’t matter what color you were?
JJ: Didn’t matter what color you were. Jim Snider and coach Blosser also played his players. If there were five on the court you put the five out there. It didn’t matter. Of course some coaches ran into problems but not at OU and not in high school or junior high.
“I have been lucky that way in all of my life. That the coaches that I’ve had have were really coaches. They coached players they didn’t coach color. “– On playing collegiate ball during the civil rights era
JW: Well, your teammates must have been pretty special too.
JJ: They were.
JW: Tell us a little bit about your teammates.
JJ: My teammates, black or white, we all got along together just fine. On road trips it didn’t matter who was your roomie, coaches put you in different rooms. He did not try to put black players with black players. He just put players with players. That was it.
JW: That’s good to hear. So that helped your team chemistry?
JJ: Oh yeah, that helped the team.
JW: Probably why you had so much success?
“Sure, you win together, you work together. You’re gonna help each other out. “– Jerry Jackson on Teamwork
JW: That’s good to hear, Jerry. Now, Jerry, when you graduated from Ohio University, tell us a little bit about your honors.
JJ: The last year I was the leading scorer. I set a record for the most points and we had set about 17 records that year, my senior year. When we got back from the NCAA tournament, we had about 17 records. Of course, they have all disappeared by now. Except for the one of the NCAA Elite Eight
JW: But did you at one time have a scoring record? Career scoring record for Ohio University?
JJ: I had a career scoring record for Ohio University for a while. The record was set in 1941. Bunk Adams broke the record in 1960. I broke his record in 1964 and Don Hilt broke mine in 1965.
JW: How long did your recordlast, Jerry?
JJ: One year.
JW:(laughs) One year.
JJ: One of my teammates broke my record by just a few points
JW: Alright. Now one of the things that I wanted to ask you. Did you make All-American that year?
JJ: Yes, I made All-American that year, third team. I was drafted by the Detroit Pistons and had letters from the St Louis Hawks and the Baltimore Bullets. But back then whoever drafted you first you went there. There was no negotiation back then. So, I went to the Detroit Pistons.
JW: Now, didn’t you tell me that in your NCAA tournament run that one time you had at least three African American players on the floor at the same time?
JW: And that was a big thing back then, wasn’t it?
JJ: That was a big thing back then.
JW: And Jim Snider allowed it, didn’t he?
JJ: Oh, yeah.
JW: Tell us a little bit about Adolph Rupp and the Kentucky Wildcats.
JJ: Well, in the NCAA tournament we had to face them. They were ranked in the top 10 that year. So we played Kentucky and we beat them by 13 points. And the day before we were practicing at one end of the court. They were practicing at the other end of the court but all of the news commentators and the cameramenthey were all down at the other end filming their practice and talking to their coaches and we only had two at our end interviewing Jim Snyder. But uh…
JW: Did Rupp have any African American players?
JJ: No, he didn’t. He didn’t have any on the team. So, uh, the next night after the game he came into the locker room to shake everybody’s hand and when he shook our hands, the black players, it was like shaking a wet noodle. Ya know, he didn’t really want to shake our hand. We knew it but anyways it was because he uh did not recruit Black Ball Players.
JW: Now, Jerry, that was 1964 and in 1965 I believe a school named Texas Western got all the way to the NCAA finals with an all-black team
JJ: Yeah, that year I think it might have been ’67 that they played Texas Western, and uh …
JW: For the national championship?
JJ: For the national championship and, uh, Texas Western beat them.
JW: That was Kentucky.
JJ: Kentucky, in 1967, didn’t have any black players on his team. Well, I guess he started recruiting African American players after that lose. So, I forget the name of the first one he recruited but I think from that point it was his downfall, they eventually got rid of him.
JW: Now, Jerry, I understand that you also did some time in the military?
JJ: I spent two years in the military.
JW: Can you tell us what branch of the military you served in?
JJ: I was in the Army, I was a MP. I, uh, could have probably gotten out of going to Vietnam .The only reason I went was because of overseas pay and my wife would receive more money.
JW: Well, I think it’s great that you served your country. Now, Jerry, I just have a few more questions. I understand that you were a Division One collegiate All-American basketball player and that in 2010 you were voted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame, is that correct?
JW: Can you tell us how big of an honor that was for you?
JJ: That was a great honor. It was the, I think, it was the fifth induction ceremony in 2010 for the Hall. Jerry Lucas and other famous players from Ohio were in the first ceremony. I was the second player from Ohio University to be inducted into the Ohio Hall of Fame and museum. Now, Jim Snider, my coach, he was inducted a year ahead of me but as a coach.
JW: You were the first player.
JJ: I was the second player to be inducted.
JW: That’s wonderful, Jerry. And Clark Kellogg was your MC?
JJ: Yes, Clark Kellogg was the MC, the commentator. It was done in Columbus at the Convention Center. There were quite a few people there. And I think Lenny Wilken’s, a professional basketball player, we went into the Hall of Fame together and, uh, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Mr Gunn, was also there.
JW: I’m glad you mentioned Lenny Wilken’s name. Tell us a little bit about the professional basketball era that you said you were drafted by Detroit. Did something happen that, um ended your career in professional basketball.
JJ: Yeah, I got hurt in a preseason ball game. I was at Detroit and it was exhibition season and, uh, I was the last person to be put on waivers. I had an opportunity to play with a lot of other Veteran ball players, names like Bill Russell, Jerry Lucas, all those guys, and at the Detroit Pistons players like, Rod Thorn, Terry Dischinger and Eddie Miles. I enjoyed the time that I spent with Detroit. The one thing I didn’t like was the traveling. Up and down in little airplanes, you know. But other than that I enjoyed my time. I appreciated it and, uh, I had the chance to go back but I decided to finish up my degree. And I ended up in Zanesville.
JW: Yes, I was going to ask you. You said that you did that so after professional basketball you went back to school back to get a master’s degree in Education and I believe that you ended up and that’s how we met in Zanesville. And tell us where you taught at in Zanesville
JJ: I taught at the middle school, the junior high school out there. I coached basketball, track for 12 years. I went to Ohio University’s branch there when I first got the job I told them I’d stay for 3 years and ended up staying 12. Then I retired from there, retired from teaching in 2002 and been having a ball ever since.
JW: Well, Jerry, we just have a few more questions here but I got to ask you. You know you’re famous, you made your name as a basketball player, but I understand that you were a pretty good basketball coach at OU in Zanesville. Tell us a little bit about your records out there.
JJ: My records at OUZ out of the 12 years I only had 2 losing seasons. And I was the first one there that had to win 20 games coaching and I did it 4 times. So my record as far as coaching there still stands to the day. It hasn’t been beaten since and I did as the ball players that had an opportunity to go on to larger schools but they just wanted to stay there and play basketball and I enjoyed it.
JW: And I understand that you donated here about a month ago a bunch of your trophies to the Rendville Historic Preservation Society.
JJ: Yes, uh, we are in the process of, we hope, moving to North Carolina so we had our house up for sale/ So, I donated about 70 some trophies to the Rendville Historic Preservation Society. There’s a little house there on Main Street that they’re trying to turn into a museum and a stop-off place for tourists. So, we went there Sunday, had those trophies put into one of the rooms at the Little White House. Some of the trophies are going to North Carolina with me but my wife will donate them after I’m gone.
JW: Well, Jerry, I know this, as you look back through your years as a basketball player, coach, and then your whole student experience, is there anything, do you have any regrets?
“I have no regrets at all.”
JW: Would you change anything?
“Nope, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d still be married to the lovely young lady over here.”– Jerry Jackson on on life and regrets
JW: With two milks in the line.
JJ: I’m satisfied with my children, I had two daughters they both have their master’s degree. They both have good jobs, I have great grandkids. My oldest grandson was just accepted. Well, he’s spending his first year out in Colorado at the Air Force Academy. He was accepted into the Air Force Academy. I have one of them that is going to graduate next year. She just left Zanesville. She just flew in from North Carolina last weekend to visit the School of Arts in Columbus, Ohio. She’s ready to graduate and move on. But I think she’s going to Ringling College in Florida and not Columbus. But I’m really satisfied with my grandkids and kids. It’s been a nice ride.
JW: Well, Jerry, God has blessed you richly. There is no question about that. And, uh, I know you made us proud in Zanesville. I know you’ve made the citizens of Rendville proud and Corning and Shawnee and New Lexington, Athens. All of Southeastern Ohio is very proud of your accomplishments since. So, we wish you nothing but the best from now and into the future.
JJ: Alright, thanks, Jim.