Influence of coach Judy Weber-Jones impacts former players

By DIANE PERKINS
Ford County Record correspondent

GIBSON CITY — Mother Nature had other plans for a 30-year softball reunion game between members of the former Melvin-Sibley and Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley softball teams. 

The rain moved the reunion from its scheduled location at Gibson City’s North Park to the nearby Railside Golf Club, where the love of a former coach and teacher was shared with laughter and tears. The feeling was unanimous among the formers players in attendance — they came back for Judy.

Judy Weber-Jones started the girls softball program at Melvin-Sibley High School in 1986.  In addition to being a coach, she taught physical education and driver’s education. But it was evident during the reunion program that Weber-Jones was more than a coach and teacher — that she was also a mentor and friend to her many players.

Staci Lindelof was one of the former players who helped plan the reunion, along with Kari DeFries, Sue Berry and Pam Adkins.  They said it was fun to see the day come together in honor of Weber-Jones.

“The stats and stuff I don’t remember,” said Lindelof. “It’s more the teammates and her. Her spirit and all those type of things I remember most. I’m looking forward to hearing the stories and memories.”

Adkins said that Weber-Jones was more than just a coach to most of the players.

“She welcomed anybody on the team,” said Adkins. “It didn’t matter what your skill level was.  She made you feel special and part of the team. We never had to worry about negative coaching. We always knew that even if we had a bad game she’d let us know, but in a positive way. She stays involved in our lives and she really cares about us. She’s excited that our kids are playing now.  She put that extra effort in to get to know us.”

Dayle (Dillon) Carroll, a former player from 1999 to 2002 currently living in Monticello, said Weber-Jones was not only her coach but also her elementary PE teacher at Melvin-Sibley before the school’s consolidation with Gibson City. The coach taught her some valuable lessons that she has carried with her until this day.

“Coach Jones was probably one of the most influential people that I dealt with, both at Mel-Sib and again when I got to GCMS High School,” said Carroll.  “She did a lot for me. She got me involved with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which was really important to me, and she taught me a lot about not taking skills for granted.

“I remember I had been playing varsity for a while and it was my senior year of softball. I was goofing off in practice and the very next game she benched me. She told me she benched me because I wasn’t doing what I should have. That was a good lesson to learn. She wasn’t afraid to discipline. Just because you had talent didn’t mean you deserved to play. She wanted to see that you had a desire and you wanted to work and have a love for the game. At the same rate, if you were going through something rough she was more than a good coach; she was a good friend.”

Several of the members of the first softball team at Melvin-Sibley also had stories to share of their days working with Weber-Jones.

“She had the patience of a saint when we started, especially me,” laughed Barb (Schultze) Schweigert of Tremont, who played on the first softball team in 1986.  “I remember playing on the old diamond in Sibley.  I must have taken 50 swings before I hit the ball. She took the time (to work with me).

“The second year I was done,” Schweigert continued. “My older sister wanted to play, and she begged and begged me to play.  I enjoyed it. It all comes back to your teammates. They’re all supportive. We were all learning at the time.”

Schweigert’s sister, Jeannette (Schultze) Funkhouser, knew the team needed the numbers to keep the team going.

“I wanted to play,” Funkhouser said. “I don’t know that we won a single game the first year, but it was the patience (Weber-Jones) had with us girls.”

Melanie (Schall) Stokes of Bloomington kept the books for the early teams at Melvin-Sibley and agreed there is something special about Weber-Jones.

“I don’t know that I ever saw her get mad at anybody,” Stokes said. “She would just basically laugh when she should be getting mad. She made you feel like it was OK. She made it clear what she wanted, and you did what she requested.

“I think another reason people were so willing to play for her, especially that first season, was she wanted it so bad. She wanted us to have a softball team. Everybody who was on the team was dedicated because it was the first team. It meant so much to her that it made it mean a lot to us.”

“She was a teacher, coach and mentor the whole time,” said Lesley (Doyle) Sparks, a former Melvin-Sibley player who now lives in Georgia. “We’re still really good friends now.”

As stories were shared throughout the program, it was evident that Weber-Jones has been an important person in the lives of many former students. 

Ross Brown, a current GCMS High School senior, summed up the feelings of the afternoon as the program came to an end.

“You’re an inspirational figure, and you will be missed forever,” Brown said in his closing program remarks. “I don’t think there’s been a teacher who has done more for the district, more for each individual student, than you have. You’ve done more in 30 years than most people do in a lifetime. Thank you for all you’ve done. We’re going to miss you.”

Weber-Jones was moved by the tributes.

“Blessed is the best way to put it,” said Weber-Jones. “Just blessed that I’ve made a positive impact on their lives and they’ve made a positive impact on my life. God has blessed me with a lot of things, and teaching and coaching are some of them.”

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