Remembering 'Choo-Choo': Prescott High Hall of Fame back set standard for Badgers' historic football program
Charley "Choo-Choo" Jones, a legendary All-State running back at Prescott High in the mid-1950s who went on to play football for coaches Dan Devine and Frank Kush at Arizona State, died Sept. 14 in Phoenix. He was 78.
The kind and gracious Jones, an inaugural Prescott High Athletics Hall of Famer who earned the nickname "Choo-Choo" for his strength, speed and ability to bust through defenders as a ball carrier, moved with his family from Trinidad, Colorado, to Prescott in 1948 as a youngster.
From 1952-56, Jones attended PHS. He played for the Badgers' varsity football team at old City Park, now Ken Lindley Field, on Gurley Street near downtown Prescott, from 1953-55. Jones earned first team All-State honors in 1954 and 1955.
Jones established the rushing standard for a PHS football program that dates back to 1910, as he either held or tied school records in five different categories through 2005. His most cherished accomplishment was rushing for 253 yards in a single game in 1955 at City Park - a PHS record that stood for 53 years.
Former Badgers tailback Brian Scates eclipsed Jones' mark in 2008, when he ran for 261 yards on just nine carries against Thunderbird. (Another former tailback, Brady Mengarelli, currently holds the PHS single-game record of 335 yards, which he set in 2012.)
In December 2008, Jones met Scates at Prescott High's Dome gym.
"I'd like to congratulate him; that's great," Jones, who retired at age 71, said that year. "I was wondering when somebody was going to do something about (the record). He doesn't have all my records, but I guess he's got that one which I was most proud of. He must've had some great blocking in front of him."
As a senior in 1955, the then-5-foot-9, 185-pound Jones scored five touchdowns against Sunnyslope, tying Prescott High's then-single-game record that was also held by four other Badgers, including Mengarelli (2012), Scates (2009), Roy Campbell (1945) and Adelbert "Sleepy" Hubbard (1928). (Mengarelli set the new record by scoring six TDs in a game on Sept. 21, 2012.)
Charley, a member of the National Honor Society, was a school-record hurdler on the Prescott High track team and played basketball, too.
In 2010, on the 100th anniversary of PHS football, Jones reflected on his playing days with the Badgers.
"I had a lot of friends in school, and I miss that friendship and camaraderie," Jones said. "I treated them with respect and they treated me with respect."
Retired longtime Prescott High teacher Jack Orr, a Badgers back-up quarterback in the mid-1950s who graduated with Jones in 1956, praised Charley.
Orr, who still lives in Prescott, said when Jones played he could run the 100-yard dash in some 10 seconds flat. Despite his larger physique, Jones was only about a stride behind the two fastest runners in the state at the time, Orr added.
"As far as I can tell, and I coached football here myself, he's the best running back that ever came out of Prescott High School," Orr said. "He was amazingly hard-charging. He was built like a professional is now. He was just a stud. He was nothing but knees and shoulder pads and grit - and he was very, very fast in those days."
All was not fun and games for Jones, though. As a senior, he got blindsided and suffered a knee injury in PHS's season opener against Superior. He missed two games, but roared back with some solid 200-plus-yard rushing performances after feeling like he had let down his teammates.
Jones derived his nickname from standout running back Charlie "Choo-Choo" Justice. Both men wore No. 33 on their jerseys.
"I guess he was the hottest back in college or pro," Jones said in 2010 about Justice. "He was my idol back then."
After Jones graduated from PHS, he enrolled at Arizona State in Tempe, where he played football on scholarship from 1956-58.
Devine recruited Charley and his younger brother, Kenny, another inaugural PHS Athletics Hall of Famer, to ASU. Charley, buoyed by his thick, muscular thighs, made the Sun Devils' traveling squad as a freshman, Orr said.
A standout kickoff and punt return specialist, Jones became a prolific scorer for ASU. He lettered his freshman year and later played for an undefeated Sun Devils team under Devine in 1957.
"Really, I was a power runner with speed - I would either go through you or go around you," Jones said in 2010. "But I've still got the marks to show it, too."
To a degree, Jones paid a price for his aggressiveness. He later had to have two knee replacements and a hip replacement.
"That's part of the beating you take when you play football," he added.
Four years ago, a panel of longtime locals told the Courier that Jones remains one of the top four or five best running backs in Badgers football history.
Orr, who played flag football with Jones in elementary school at the current Mile High Middle School field, called his friend "a tough rascal."
"He was the real deal," Orr added about Jones, who was elected student body president in junior high. "He had such tremendous leg power that he could stand under the basket (on a basketball court), squat down and leap, and grab the rim."
After leaving Arizona State, Charley moved to Las Vegas to work for the Atomic Energy Commission. But he returned to Prescott in 1973 to care for his ill parents, who were beloved members of the community.
Jones labored with and for Rod Cordes at Mile High (former site of PHS) and Prescott High for a number of years as a security guard. Cordes, a Prescott native who worked for Prescott Unified School District from 1961-91, primarily as an administrator, said Jones was a respectful, caring man.
"I never had to worry about security with the kids at the junior high - he knew exactly who was on campus," Cordes said. "If he saw a car that shouldn't have been there, he was on it quickly."
Jones used to attend all of Prescott High's major sporting events, Cordes added. The high school bought a letterman's jacket for Jones several years ago, which he would wear to the contests. Charley also owned two German shepherds, including a dog named 'Saefoo' that students adored.
"He liked kids; he liked athletics," Cordes said. "He wasn't just an eight-hour guy. When school was closed down, he'd be down there checking doors and making sure no foolishness was going on. It was like it was his school, and it was."
More recently, in retirement, Jones moved into the Las Fuentes Care Center in Prescott, where Cordes and Orr would visit him. Within the past year, Jones relocated to Phoenix to be closer to his brother.
"A lot of people that played athletics here in Prescott with him, or other places, and knew him in his final years will miss him," Cordes said. "He was just a nice, nice fella."
Charley is survived by his son, Kevin, and his brother, Kenny, both of Phoenix, and his cousin, Pearl Porter, of Prescott.
The Jones family will conduct a graveside memorial service for Charley at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Mountain View Cemetery, 1051 Willow Creek Road, in Prescott.
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