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Northwest Philly grandma, hidden civil rights hero still coaching and fighting

During 33 years coaching career at University City High School, she won 647 games and 12 city championships.

Lurline Jones is the Martin Luther King High School girls’ basketball coach. (Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Earlier this month, the Martin Luther King High School girls’ basketball team gathered in the school cafeteria for an end-of-season banquet.

While buffet trays of soul food simmered on nearby tables, head coach Lurline Jones hoisted herself from a plastic chair and grabbed the microphone.

The Cougars lost all 16 of their games this season. Jones didn’t sugarcoat things — she never does.

“My team knows I care about ’em,” she said. “They don’t like me sometimes ’cause I holler at ’em all the time. They talk all the time.”

It was a “kids-these-days” kind of speech, but the audience laughed along.

Jones turned 75 a couple of weeks ago. Her team is young, even by high school standards. The 14-girl roster featured nine freshmen. Jones assessed their skills with characteristic bluntness.

“They’d never played basketball before,” she told the parents and teachers assembled.

Jones has played and seen a lot of basketball. During her 33-year coaching career at University City High School in West Philadelphia, she won 647 games and 12 city championships.

Her players are vaguely aware of that track record.

“She a GOAT,” said 10th grader and team MVP Amari Ward, using an acronym for “greatest of all time.” “She tough.”

The girls also know — with similar vagueness — about Jones’ accomplishments off the court.

“I know that a while ago she was in the civil rights movement,” said 9th grader La’Kye Powell.


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