By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
COLLINSVILLE – Throughout the years, Donny Jones has seen and been a part of a lot of history at Collinsville High School as a student, a teacher, a coach and an administrator.
On Tuesday night, he was part of another chapter of the school’s history when the Panther basketball teams played their first games of the 2023-24 season in the new gymnasium that bears his name.
The Panthers welcomed rival Cedar Bluff to christen the $5.6 million dollar Donny Jones Gymnasium. Collinsville split its varsity games, with the Lady Panthers falling 44-21 and the Panther boys earning a 39-21 victory.
Jones takes a lot of pride in seeing the new facility become a reality but downplays the notion of the building being named in his honor.
“I guess they just wanted to put my name on here because I’ve been around for so long,” Jones joked. “I’ve been blessed as history has gone on. I was lucky enough to be on a state championship team (1975). I’ve been an administrator when we won state with soccer (2013) and girls basketball (2020). I’ve coached several teams where we went to the Final Four. I’ve just been lucky to be able to work where I was born and raised. I’m thankful for that.”
He’s also thankful to see this generation of Panther athletes have such a facility. The new gym replaces L.D. Dobbins Gym, which will still be utilized as an auxiliary gym.
“It’s been a long time coming with our population growing,” Jones said. “We’ve been pushing for this for a long time. We needed another facility, not only for basketball, but we didn’t have a place on campus to have an assembly or a program or pep rallies or graduations, anything where our kids would all fit. Now, finally, we’ve got a facility where all that can take place. Kindergarten through 12 can get in this building. That’s what I like about it.”
Collinsville principal Bradley Crawford said naming the facility in honor of Jones was “the perfect fit.”
“He’s the ultimate Panther,” Crawford said. “Even now, in retirement, he’s still just a phone call away if we ever need his help with anything. We’ve had a bus driver who’s been on a leave of absence the last several weeks and Coach (Jones) is driving the bus for us. I think it was the perfect fit to name it after him because he’s given his life’s work and devotion to the school and to this community.”
Crawford said the new gym project began to break ground in March of 2022. Now, roughly 19 months later, it’s finally completed.
“There have been folks in this community who probably never thought this day would come,” Crawford said. “We did an open house right before Thanksgiving and had a really great turnout, probably 300-400 people. Everybody was just awestruck. The kids have been really excited. Tonight (Tuesday) is kind of the culmination of a lot of work to get to this point.”
Panther boys basketball coach Jon Tidmore agrees with Crawford.
“We’ve been needing this for a long time, in terms of having places to practice for the multiple teams we have, having a place to have graduations, Veterans Day programs and things like that. It’s very, very nice and we’re proud of it,” Tidmore said.
Tidmore, however, is still sentimental about Dobbins Gym.
“There’s a long history in there, and we’re used to it. It’s a good home court advantage,” he said. “It will take some time to make this (new gym) a home court advantage.”
Crawford said the Panthers have doubled their seating capacity, from 560 to 1,178 seats. The larger concession stand offers spectators more menu items, which Crawford said “You can come here and eat supper.” A featured item on Tuesday evening was pinto beans.
As for the court itself, new padded chairs adorned with the Panther logo sit atop a red carpet on both the home and visitor sides. An electronic scorer’s table sits in between both benches. Fans also have the luxury of seeing state-of-the-art electronic scoreboards on both sides of the new gym.
Crawford said the scoreboards feature advertisements from local businesses, which will provide the school with “a tremendous source of revenue.”
The new gym is also climate controlled and features six goals instead of four in the Dobbins gym. It also has multipurpose rooms which will make hosting tournaments and school events easier.
“We’ve just got a lot of functionality and space that we’ve never had before,” Crawford said. “A lot of folks have put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it. We’re very appreciative and I think the community is just tickled to death.”