Hall of Fame athlete shares winning mentality with counselors

By Beth Reed
This article was published July 11, 2018 at 4:00 a.m.

Maintaining a winning attitude through life's fouls was Syracuse Hall of Fame athlete and women's basketball analyst Vera Jones' message for school counselors from across the state on Tuesday.

The keynote speaker shared her testimony of how to "Play Through the Foul" as part of the Arkansas School Counselor Association's 2018 conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center, using what she has learned through her lifetime playing basketball that applies to life's challenges.

"They say if you allow your passion to become your purpose, it will one day become your profession ... I say the purpose of pursuing your passion is to one day put passion back into your purpose," Jones said. "I've given so much of my life to basketball and clearly basketball has given me a lot in return. Greatest of all, it has taught me how to play through the fouls of life and how to win."

Fouls, she explained, are "situations, circumstances, technology and people who can limit, hinder, threaten, alter and discourage us from our desired goal. Fouls, we know, can ultimately turn our life upside down."

The winner's mentality, she said, is about having courage and perseverance to get through the fouls, and she wanted nothing more in life than to give back the winner's mentality to others.

In 2007, Jones had just taken the job as assistant coach at Indiana University and it was March Madness when her first season had just been completed. Being a single mom, Jones' parents came up from Jacksonville, Fla., to watch her son, who was 9 years old at the time.

One night while sitting at the table, Jones said her mother advised her to complete the book she had been writing, get on the speaker circuit to inspire people, "and then you can get yourself on Oprah."

"I didn't realize that was the last lecture that I would receive from my mother. She died suddenly from a heart attack after they returned to Jacksonville," Jones said.

"It was the biggest foul of my life up until that moment. As much as I make jokes about my mom and how she was always lecturing me, she -- like you -- was a counselor and an adviser. I depended on her, and I depended on her advice and her strength and suddenly, I was without it for the first time in my life."

Jones left her job and moved with her son back to Jacksonville to be close to her father, and in the midst of life's struggles she said she heard a voice saying those same things her mother had advised her on before.

"When it came to writing a book, what do they tell you to do in school? Write about what you know," she said. "I knew two things. I knew basketball and I knew a whole lot about fouls. So my very first book was called 'Play Through the Foul: Basketball Lessons for the Game of Life.' The next thing I knew I started a company. I had two degrees in communication from Syracuse University and figured I might as well use them. The next thing I knew, I was a book-writing fool."

Jones said the words people speak every day are very important, but often they are used carelessly.

"You know this as counselors because I'm sure you've talked to many, many students about this. You have to remind yourself sometimes that the words you use can be so powerful that they could even prove prophetic like my mother's words were for me," she said. "Words could be so powerful that we could indeed tear a life apart and give people fouls that it's very difficult to play through."

Jones said her son, Andrew, who attended the conference with her, has faced many fouls from learning he was hearing-impaired at a young age, to having a brain tumor removed at 12 years old which left him legally blind with no peripheral vision.

"Even though it was the toughest time of Andrew's life and it was the toughest time of my life, it was the biggest opportunity for life lessons," she said.

First, Jones said, with no peripheral vision there would be no peripheral distractions.

"You have a built-in mechanism to just focus on the goal straight ahead," she said she told her son. "Over here is worry and over here is doubt. But the goal, the 'I can' is straight ahead."

The second lesson she said was to focus on what's ahead and face one's fears.

"That led us to the third lesson -- ask for help," she said. "When pride says do it yourself but wisdom says ask someone who knows, be humble enough to listen to wisdom. You'll be proud you did."

The two found their help at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind, and a counselor there named Wendy Williams helped them find their way through their new normal.

"People would say all the time 'It's so sad that Andrew lost his vision, I'm so sorry,' and I'd finally say 'You know what, don't say that. My son didn't lose his vision, he lost his sight,'" she said.

"They're different. Sight is physical, it's the here and now, the biological what we can see. It's tangible, it's what we trust because it is tangible. But vision is something spiritual. Vision is something placed deep inside of you that said 'Hey, you know what? I've never done it before but I've got this thought about becoming a school counselor. I've got this thought about maybe trying the guitar. I've got this thought ... that you had never done before.'"

When one learns to trust vision, Jones said, that is real growth.

"It's not about what you can see, it's about who you're meant to be," she said.

Local on 07/11/2018
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