U.Va. Alum, Chicago Bears Running Back Thomas Jones Establishes Scholarship Fund

October 21, 2006 — Thomas Jones, former Atlantic Coast football Player of the Year at the University of Virginia and current Chicago Bears running back, has established a scholarship fund at his alma mater designated for students from a five-county area of Southwest Virginia.

Announcement of the Thomas Quinn Jones Scholarship Fund was made Saturday during a special event honoring the Jones family as part of the annual Family Weekend activities at the University.

Jones, a 1999 graduate of U.Va., came to the University from Big Stone Gap, Va., where he was one of seven children whose parents, Betty and Thomas Jones, both worked in the coal mines .

Six of the Jones’ children have attended college, including three at the University of Virginia. The seventh is a high school senior who will enter college in the fall of 2007. In addition to Thomas, two of his sisters — Knetris and Knetta — attended U.Va.; his younger brother, Julius, played football at Notre Dame and is a running back with the Dallas Cowboys; two of his sisters — Gwen and Beatrice — attended the University of Tennessee.

“My roots are in Southwest Virginia, and I'll never forget those roots,” Jones said. “This scholarship will give people from my area a chance to experience what I experienced and, hopefully, to grow the way that I've grown. I felt I had an obligation to allow others from my part of the state a chance to come here.

“U.Va. didn't really change my life — it started my life as far as my becoming a man and understanding the different ways to think. My mom and dad made me realize that football was no guarantee, and that you have to have something to fall back on."

Jones’ scholarship fund will be used to provide annual scholarships of $2,000 for qualifying students from the Virginia counties of Dickinson, Lee, Russell, Scott, or Wise, or in the city of Norton. The scholarship may be renewed each year following the student’s first year, but for no more than four years as long as the student remains in good standing at the University.

“We think these scholarships will be a wonderful incentive to the students of Southwest Virginia, and our hope is that the scholarships will assist us in identifying and recruiting candidates from this area of the state,” said John Blackburn, dean of admission at the University. Blackburn noted that, on average, U.Va. has had about 10 students a year matriculate from the five-county area.

This is the second major gift from former Virginia athletes in the past month NFL stars Ronde and Tiki Barber made a $1 million gift to U.Va. on Oct. 1 as part of the launch of the $3 billion Campaign for the University of Virginia.

“The gift Thomas Jones is providing is important on several levels. It comes to an area of the University other than athletics, which shows the great affinity between the Jones family and the University,” said Craig Littlepage, director of athletics at the University. “The gift will support deserving students from Southwest Virginia. Finally, the gift comes just after our announcement of the University's historic campaign, further demonstrating the loyalty and love for the University by our graduates.  We are proud that Thomas' success will benefit future generations of U.Va. students.”

A psychology major who received his bachelor’s degree in three years, Jones set most of U.Va.’s career rushing records on his way to finishing eighth in Heisman Trophy balloting. He was the Cavaliers’ first consensus All-America running back in more than half a century and remains the career rushing leader with 3,998 yards. He is also renowned for having never missed a football practice during his college career.

Drafted in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Jones was traded to Tampa Bay in 2003 and signed a four-year contract as a free agent with Chicago in 2004. He is currently the starting running back for the Bears and has helped lead them to a 6-0 record this season.

Thomas Q. Jones’ mother, Betty Jones, who worked the night shift in the coal mines for many years to give her children an opportunity for an education said that she and her husband placed a high value on education for their children.

“Both of our sons were able to use their athletic talents to gain scholarships,” she said. “But football lasts a few years, and education lasts forever.”

“We’re very proud that Thomas has decided to do something that will encourage children from his home area to consider going to the University of Virginia,” added the senior Thomas Jones. “For several years now, he’s talked about doing something that will give back to in a way that could assist both the University and this part of the state.”

Families with two or more children at U.Va. were among the special guests at the ceremony at which the announcement was made and, University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III paid tribute to the sacrifices of parents who, like the Joneses, are committed to making higher education a possibility for their children.

“Parents and family members make sacrifices to provide the best possible opportunities for their children,” Casteen said. “The Jones family stands out as the embodiment of trust and sacrifice.”