A mother's influence. That may have been the biggest factor in six national and 10 SEC titles in the gloried heyday of Lady Tigers track.
When Esther Jones was coaxed from
LSU in 1987, there were those who realized the program was being racheted up.
"Esther was probably the first big-time national female recruit LSU signed out
of high school,'' former assistant coach Sam Seemes recalled. "It was big for
the program because she was a person who was nationally recruited by
The Lady Tigers were already a very
good team, having swept the national indoors and outdoors championships just
months before her arrival in Baton
Rouge. But there's no doubt the addition of Jones made
LSU a long standing force. She became a 21-time All-American – the most
decorated in Tiger track history, regardless of gender – as LSU became a fixture
on the sports' grandstand.
So how does a Midwestern girl, with
no family ties to draw on, end up sprinting near the byways and bayous of south
"Oh, I loved Louisiana from the
start,'' she said. "I loved the culture, the food, the people,'' Jones said last
week in Natchitoches where she was inducted into the
state's Sports Hall of Fame. "It really came down to the University of Texas and LSU. Those were the two I was
leaning strongly to. But my mom came with me on my recruiting visit and she
liked it here. She told she thought I'd be more comfortable here. It all worked
out, I guess.''
Jones was a major snag, but it
would be fair to say she even exceeded expectations. "Well, here I could compete
all year around,'' she said, a contrast to the snowy and cold Midwest. "I could train year ‘round, and then I just think
my athleticism kicked in. That's really the story.''
Jones quickly became the
cornerstone of a sprint program that would dominate collegiate track for years
Jones quickly became the
cornerstone of a sprint program that lorded over collegiate track for years. Her
abilities turned up in a variety of roles, from the 100 and 200 meters to the
400 and 800 relays. She even ran the 1,600 relay when needed. Jones had outdoor
times in times in the 100 and 200 that are still LSU records, 11.11 and 22.49,
respectively. But former coach Pat Henry thought her biggest strength was with a
baton in her hands, and she earned a gold medal with the U.S.
women's 400 relay team at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Recognized as collegian in 1990
with the James J. Corbett Award, presented to the outstanding amateur athlete in
Louisiana, she was remembered almost two
decades later in Natchitoches as the first member of those
outstanding female track teams that claimed an amazing 24 NCAA indoor and
outdoor titles in an 18-year span from 1987 to 2004.
"Esther was really the First Lady
of LSU track,'' Henry, now the head coach at Texas A&M said on film at the
ceremonies. "She was a great champion.''
Jones now lives in Orlando, and says those
days when she was always in peak condition and a world-class athlete, are far
behind her. She said she doesn't even really spend much time thinking about that
time. "Some of the things I've been reading about myself,'' Jones added with
surprise at some of the stories of her accomplishments, "I don't even really
So, then, where are all gold medals
Jones collected through the years that could serve as a reminder? "They are all
at my mother's house in Milwaukee.''
Marty Mule' can be reached at