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Football star’s roots traced to Steubenville

December 30, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

STEUBENVILLE - "This is not a story just about football. This is a story about a family trying to find itself, about me trying to find myself," said Edwin Harrison II, grandson of the late Calvin Jones, at the start of a documentary that traces the Canadian football star's roots to Steubenville and helped connect Harrison and his father with their family in the Ohio Valley.

Patti West of Steubenville, Jones' niece, said recognition of Jones through the film aired on the TSN Canadian sports network was "a beautiful moment in history for Steubenville and the Ohio Valley."

But she noted the making of the film also was a very personal experience for her because it brought her and other family members together with Jones' son, Edwin Harrison I, and grandson, Edwin II.

Article Photos

Warren Scottt
ATHLETE REMEMBERED — Patti West, niece of the late Calvin Jones, gazes at a photo of Jones, bottom, far left, and his teammates on the 1952 Steubenville High School football team, years before he went on to play for the Canadian Football League. West arranged for a screening Saturday of a Canadian documentary about Jones, the airplane crash that cut short his athletic career and the recent uniting of his son and grandson with their family in Steubenville.

Entitled "The Crash," the film relates Jones' athletic career, from his days as an outstanding defensive lineman on a winning Big Red team to recognition as an offensive guard at Iowa that led to him playing for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

While at Iowa, Jones was twice named a first team All-American, received the Outland Award, given by the Sports Writers Association of America to an outstanding college interior lineman; and was the first college football player to be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

West noted her uncle had an opportunity to play in the National Football League, but because he would have been paid less, as an African-American player, opted for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers instead.

The film's title alludes to a tragic airplane crash that killed Jones and 61 others, including four other Canadian football players returning with Jones from their appearance in the league's All-Star Game, on Dec. 9, 1956.

A failed engine, icy conditions and turbulence led the plane to crash into Mount Slesse, and the remains of the craft and passengers weren't discovered until several months later.

But it took many years for Jones' son and grandson to be united with their family in Steubenville.

In the film, Sandra Lee, Jones' college sweetheart, explained that when she became pregnant with his child, her parents insisted she return home immediately.

Edwin Harrison II, who also appears in the film, said he initially was led to believe he was his grandparents' child and mother's brother. Even when the truth came out, very little was said about his biological father, he said.

Many years later his mother made contact with Jones' family in Steubenville. But concerns about how he would be perceived by his family in Steubenville, as well as a heart attack and broken neck, kept Edwin I away.

Edwin II, who has since gone on to play for the Canadian Football League's Calgary Stampeders, lack of knowledge about his grandfather left "a big hole" in his life he wished to fill.

The film depicts the first meeting of the Harrisons with Patti and other family members at the airport and their gathering for a prayer and dinner.

West, who noted the meeting occurred on her birthday, said, "I give all the credit for it to God."

Later in the film the Harrisons are seen attending a Big Red game at Harding Stadium.

Big Red Football Coach Reno Saccoccia was filmed as he delivered a locker room pep talk to his team, reminding them that game was being played in Jones' honor.

Also on hand for Saturday's screening, Saccoccia said he feels "honored to be part of the tradition and legacy Calvin left Steubenville High School football."

He also introduced William Houst, a 2012 Steubenville High School graduate who was recruited to play Jones in black and white recreations of his teenage years interspersed with actual footage of Big Red games in which he played.

West said she was startled by Houst's resemblance to her uncle while presenting him the Calvin Jones Award, an honor given to outstanding Big Red players for more than 50 years, but it wasn't until later she learned of the proposed film.

Houst said it was an honor to play Jones but he has no plans of pursuing an acting career as he continues to study sports management at Galvin Community College in Gilroy, Calif.

Also on hand was Dave Patton, Jones' former basketball coach, who noted though football was his first love, Jones "played basketball very, very well."

"Calvin influenced everyone he came in contact with. His desire to win rubbed off on everyone," Patton said, adding Jones helped the team win 28 consecutive games and to a state championship attempt.

"A lot of people refer to Steubenville as the home of Dean Martin. I refer to it as the home of Calvin Jones," he said.

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