Sam “Chicken” Jones is one of the most respected football officials in the region.
When you consider that he’s played four title games, 11 semifinal games and more than 70 tournament games — between Ohio and West Virginia — the respect he’s earned comes from a wider territory than just the Ohio Valley.
If you combine Jones’ acting skills and his 10-year experience as an athletic administrator at Buckeye Local High School, he was chosen to serve as the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference commissioner of football, effective Wednesday afternoon, when the conference’s board of directors announced the Setting Approved .
“I’m very emotional and looking forward to this opportunity,” said Jones. “My phone exploded (Wednesday) with people congratulating me and I really appreciate that but I’m ready to go. I know football is king in the Ohio Valley and this is a tall order and I will do my best.
Jones takes over for Doug Costain, who relocated last month. Costain had been hired as a football commissioner in December but was appointed basketball commissioner a few weeks ago.
In fact, Costain had appointed Jones as one of his deputy commissioners. But it wasn’t until the OVAC approved a change to a long-standing rule that commissioners were not allowed to officiate games in either football or basketball that Jones decided to continue the job.
“I had applied (in the winter) but I drew my name when they said the commissioner was not allowed to officiate.” Jones admitted. “So when I got a little taste of the job working with Doug and the OVAC changed the rule, I decided to apply again.”
Jones has been a football official for 34 years and has spent 23 years as a team manager. In fact, he credits former OVAC football commissioner Don Zinni with sparking his interest in the incumbent aspect of the sport.
“When I was a young officer, Don and I were good friends and someone I really looked up to.” said Jones. “He took me to games, showed me different things and really got me to watch the officials. It really meant a lot to me and my career and now I feel like I’m following in his footsteps.”
Prior to Costain’s appointment as Football Commissioner, Dave Clutter held that post. He took over for Zinni. Indeed, Jones becomes only the ninth football commissioner in the OVAC’s illustrious history.
“There are some big shoes to fill because there have been some great commissioners over the years,” said Jones.
Jones takes office at a time when there is a nationwide problem of staff shortages. The Ohio Valley is not immune to this either.
“It will be an ongoing process to recruit officers.” said Jones. “There is such a shortage and therefore a need for young, sporty people that we can train. Officiating is an opportunity to have fun, stay involved in the sport and make some money.”
While the search for new officers and efforts to retain current ones continue, Jones and his newly hired Assistant Commissioner Ricky Moore will issue official duties for the 2022 season in the coming weeks.
“Only very few orders were sent” Jones confirmed. “All are on the drawing board but we will ship them shortly. My philosophy is to use the best available officials every night.”
In addition to assigning officials, Jones will also work diligently with member schools, be involved in the OVAC All-Star Game and oversee day-to-day running of the sport.
“Dealing with the officials, schools and even the referee is like a combination of my two jobs at school and my love of office.” said Jones. “When the job description was posted, I felt like (the job) only had my name.”
Though Jones is permitted and will still be highly visible on the field Friday and Saturday in the Ohio Valley, he plans to play fewer games.
“While there is no way I feel like I can leave the field, I will tone it down so I can spend more time evaluating officials and teams.” said Jones. ”
In addition to his duties as a football official, Jones has been a baseball official for 20 seasons and served at the Ohio State Tournament last spring. He was also a coach during his Buckeye Local career, which began in 1997.
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