Folks gather in Harlan to remember legendary athlete "Wah Wah" Jones

By: Tanner Hesterberg, Laura Beranek Email
By: Tanner Hesterberg, Laura Beranek Email
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HARLAN, Ky. (WYMT) Update, 7/30/14:

Folks gathered Wednesday night in Harlan to remember one of the greatest athletes the state of Kentucky has ever seen.

Harlan native Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones died Sunday. He was 88.

Jones played multiple sports at Harlan High School and the University of Kentucky, but people at Jones' visitation Wednesday in Harlan said his legacy goes beyond any court or playing field.

On the basketball court in the 1940s, Jones led the Wildcats to two national championships and helped Harlan High School win a state title.

"You couldn't guard him," said Earl Rogers, who played for nearby Loyall High School while Jones was at Harlan. "We used every kind of defense there was. There just was no guarding him."

"I played against them three years and the closest we ever got was 18 points."

Jones also played football, baseball and track and field at UK, earning high honors in each sport.

He was an All-American in football playing for legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Another legendary coach, Adolph Rupp, coached Jones in basketball.

"I was one of the kids in Harlan who grew up seeing (Jones') picture and trophy in the trophy case in the hall," Harlan football coach J.B. Donahue said. "And at the time you wondered, 'Man, can I be like Wah Wah?' Everybody wanted to be like Wah Wah."

Jones went from hometown hero to worldwide superstar, earning a gold medal in basketball at the 1948 London Olympic Games.

But Bill Rice, who went to high school with Jones, said he was an even better person than athlete.

"He was just a good person to be around," Rice said. "Everybody looked up to him and respected him but he didn't act like everybody was looking up to him and respecting him."

He is survived by three children and several grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Original story, 7/28/14

Wallace "Wah Wah" Jones, a University of Kentucky basketball and football All-American died Sunday at the age of 88.

Jones also played baseball at UK.

As a triple sport athlete, many considered him UK's greatest all-around athlete.

In his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, many consider him the pride of the county.

"Even today the kids are aware of that," said Charles Morton, Harlan Independent School Districts Superintendent, "They see his picture in the hallway of the high school, and the trophies as a result of the work that he's done here."

Jones led Harlan High School to a state championship in 1944.

After graduation, he was a member of the Fabulous Five, the UK team that won the university's first national championship in 1948.

"He went to Lexington, and he went around the world," said his nephew John Jones, "But Harlan was always home to him."

A superstar that will always shine in the eyes of his hometown.

"For all generations, Wah Wah is really larger than life," said Morton, "So obviously he's somebody that we take great pride in as being son of Harlan, and particularly our high school."

Folks say Jones' accomplishments as a UK standout and member of the U.S. team that won an Olympic gold medal never went to his head.

"He was just so humble," said Jones, "He never expected any recognition on it and never expected any courtesies from it. He was just who he was, that was always Wah."

Wah Wah's visitation is scheduled for Wednesday in Harlan at the Anderson-Laws-Jones Funeral Home from 5-7pm.

The funeral will be in Lexington on Friday at Emmanuel Baptist Church at 12pm.

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