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Football legend to be focus of TV special

Calvin Jones featured in Canadian documentary

April 8, 2012
By MARK J. MILLER - Staff writer ( , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - He was a city high school football legend, but because of the color of his skin he chose to play in the Canadian Football League rather than the National Football League rather than endure racism shown toward black athletes in the 1950s.

But that didn't stop the late Calvin Jones from attaining greatness anyway - first at Steubenville High School, then with the Iowa Hawkeyes and then in the Canadian Football League. He also was the first African-American to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Mark Kauffman's iconic photograph of Jones appeared on the front of the Sept. 27, 1954, edition.

Jones - killed in a plane crash Dec. 9, 1956, over the Canadian Rocky Mountains - will now be getting the place in history he deserves, as Infield Fly Productions of Canada comes to Steubenville's Harding Stadium at 7 p.m. April 27 to film recreations - titled the Calvin Jones Memorial Football Game - that will become part of a documentary on the football legend and the 100th year of Canadian football to be broadcast on the TSN Canadian sports network. Admission is free.

Article Photos

SUBJECT OF DOCUMENTARY — Steubenville resident Patti West, niece of the late Calvin Jones, legendary Iowa Hawkeye and Canadian Football League great, shows items that mark some of Jones’ greatest moments in sports history, including being the first African-American to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Jones, a Steubenville High School graduate who died in a plane crash over the Canadian Rocky Mountains on Dec. 9, 1956, will be the subject of a documentary shot by Infield Fly Productions for Canada’s TSN sports network. The production will be coming to Steubenville on April 27 to shoot the Calvin Jones Memorial Football Game, a recreation of Jones’ greatest high school football moments at Harding Stadium. -- Mark J. Miller

Producers of the planned documentary are hoping the public will fill the stadium to give the recreated shots authenticity, according to Patti West, Jones' niece.

"(Jones) played for the Winnepeg Blue Bombers in the CFL," said West. "TSN Sports is like our ESPN (sports network). TSN is coming to Harding Stadium to re-create a game Calvin played in. They will be filming, and they are looking for people to come and fill Harding Stadium. All area high schools are invited to attend the filming."

West said any players who played with Jones during his years at Steubenville High School also are invited.

"When he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated he was representing the entire Ohio Valley," said Jones of the historic civil rights moment. "(Jones) son is Edwin Harrison I, and his grandson, Edwin "Boomer" Harrison II, is following in his footsteps. He plays for the Calgary Stampeders."

Harrison also will be present for the game in Steubenville honoring his grandfather, according to a press release from Infield Fly Productions.

West said Jones was a 1952 graduate of Steubenville High School and played for Big Red before moving onto Iowa and then the CFL. He also was a Big Red basketball star, leading the team to a state title game.

"My mother, Mildred Minnifield, was Calvin's sister," said West. "Calvin was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame at Cincinatti's King's Island in the 1970s."

Jones wasn't alone in reportedly reviving the Iowa Hawkeyes between 1952-55, where he was both a defensive and offensive guard. He joined two other Steubenville High School alumni - end Frank Gilliam and halfback Eddie Vincent - and Jones was elected team captain his senior year. After his senior year in 1955, he became the first African-American to win the Outland Trophy as the nation's top college lineman. He finished 10th in the Heisman Trophy balloting that year.

In 1956 Jones, like many African-American football players at the time, declined offers to play in the NFL because of institutionalized racism in the U.S., and he instead joined the Blue Bombers, thus beginning his football career in the CFL, according to literature provided by West. Jones quickly made a name for himself in the league, and he was chosen to play in the Canadian League All-Star game in Vancouver, B.C., on Dec. 8, 1956.

The next day the plane carrying Jones and 61 others crashed in the Canadian Rockies. West said she remembers that fateful day well.

"It was overwhelming to me when I learned he was killed in that plane crash," said West.

The accident also sent shock waves through the CFL at the time, as Jones was looked upon as a rising star. Reportedly at the time, members of the Ottawa Rough Riders CFL team also were killed in the accident. Even more ironic, Jones reportedly missed his earlier flight that morning because he overslept.

Producers of the planned recreations also are asking the Steubenville High School Marching Band to participate as well as cheerleaders. The recreation will include stops and starts and eventually will be digitally aged, accord to the release.

Also, Harrison, Jones' grandson, will be attending a press conference at the Steubenville High School commons set for 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. the day of the game and will be available for questions.

West asked any residents who have photos or memories of Jones' career in Steubenville or for information on attending the memorial game to call her at (740) 282-5234.

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