In the nearly six decades that Lurline Jones has been a basketball coach, she’s made sure that her guidance doesn’t just stay on the court.
Since 77-year-old Jones took her first coaching job at a Philadelphia girls school in 1966, more than 300 of her students have gone on to college on athletic scholarships — and four have earned coveted spots in the WNBA.
“There’s something in my blood that says I want to coach,” Jones tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newstands Friday. “These kids are also my kids. They know I’m teaching them more than how to play basketball.”
Even after her students graduate from high school, Jones — who currently coaches at Martin Luther King High School in Philadelphia — keeps in touch.
On a recent August afternoon, Jones’ former student Stephanie Mack, now 42 — who lived with her as a teen during a rough match at home — wanted to show Jones the house that Mack had recently purchased.
“I hugged her and was so proud of her,” says Jones. “There’s no greater satisfaction than knowing I helped her get to this big milestone.”
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A more recent student, Romeira Tucker, 22, who graduated from college after attending on a full basketball scholarship, says Jones is a “legend” and that she owes “everything to her.”
Jones — who also founded the nonprofit program the Developmental Basketball League, which has helped boys and girls improve their playing skills for the past 46 years — has been fighting for equality since she was a young girl.
When she was a high school basketball player at Philadelphia’s William Penn High School for Girls, she was denied the chance to play varsity basketball because the school didn’t have a team. Ever since then she’s been fighting for women athletes’ rights.
“I want to give these kids a chance to succeed in life,” says Jones, “so I’ll coach for as long as I can.”
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