JONES — Jones High principal Carl Johnson is quick to admit how stressful the last three years have been and what patience he has learned from the whole ordeal.
But when he's seen people filing in-and-out of the school's new gymnasium all weekend, he knows the stress and frustration were worth it.
The difference between the pride the Jones students have this year compared to the last couple of years is like night and day. In fact, Johnson said it's not even fair to try to compare just how different things are.
“When you had to do the things we had to do, it's just tough to explain,” Johnson said. “We do know this is a special place.”
It's a place the Longhorns had to wait for, and a place the Longhorn faithful deserve.
On Dec. 10, 2007, the old Jones High was destroyed by a fire. There were plenty of makeshift classrooms all around the facility following the fire, including the gym. The gym was one of the few places not touched by the fire.
It wasn't the same, obviously. Johnson and superintendent Mike Steele put in a lot of time and a lot of effort to give their students a place to call home again, though the old gym still remains.
They looked at other facilities. They didn't duplicate what others had done. They took bits and pieces from different layouts and merged it into one.
That effort was finished in August when the new school was opened. Not just the school, but a new state-of-the-art gym called the Stevens-Chase Center.
“We've made a lot of transitions in the last couple of years,” athletic director Dave Martin said. “It comes with our expectations. We expect to be the best.”
The students never stopped believing that, either. Despite the tough times, Johnson said only one student left because of the fire. The current enrollment is the largest Johnson has seen in his 11 years at the school.
A lot of people are getting their first look at the Stevens-Chase Center this weekend at the first Jones Tournament.
The gym is named after longtime Jones coach and middle school principal Bill Stevens and the Chase family that has been a part of the Jones culture for years, said Martin.
“It's awesome to be a part of the class that gets to open this gym. It's incredible,” said junior Tylor Seabolt, a three-sport star for the Longhorns in baseball, football and basketball.
Part of that change in culture is a credit to what Martin has brought to the program. Martin, a 1994 Jones graduate, feels a special bond with the school and community.
Martin's character was revealed following the Daxx Garman situation. In 2009, Jones was on its way to a district football championship when Garman, the team's quarterback, was ruled ineligible. A memorable season turned into a 2-8 campaign and missing the playoffs.
That moment fueled this year's team, and Martin didn't downplay the motivation. Jones reached the second round of the playoffs, losing at Davis in overtime.
“He's set the tone for what this program is supposed to be about,” senior Micah Thompson said.
Thompson is part of the success. The defensive tackle recently committed to North Texas.
After a couple of trying years, the Jones school and athletic programs are back where they want to be, and the future has never looked brighter.
“There's definitely a new sense of ownership when it comes to the school,” Martin said. “The community rallied together, and they have every right to be proud of what is happening.”