JONESVILLE — John W. Mathis, a retired teacher and coach and a founding member of the Jonesville Historical Society, died late Monday night. He was 91.
Mathis retired from Starmount High School in 1988. For 15 years, he taught at Jonesville High School and moved to Starmount when schools consolidated in 1967.
In his “Off the Rim” book on basketball, Dr. Fred Hobson, a UNC professor who grew up in Yadkinville, said the name of Jonesville meant “basketball royalty” when John Mathis was coach.
Hobson wrote, Mathis was “the Dean Smith of hoops in our area. A gentleman, always poised, well-dressed, and well-spoken, he was also a disciplined, demanding taskmaster. And he won, year after year, turning out a number of college players in the process.”
His team “always seemed a cut above…the way they held themselves when they entered the gym in street clothes…the way they took the court for warm-up, the way they ran drills, the confidence they had in close games: all seemed to make them better than the rest.”
In 1962, his fellow coaches in western North Carolina selected him to coach the West in the East-West All-Star game at Greensboro. The West won.
In 1983, he gave up the 12 to 14 hours a day required to be a winning coach, but served as athletic director at Starmount until he retired in 1988.
Starmount included him in its first Hall of Fame class.
In retirement, he remained a Starmount fan, riding to games with long-time friend Danny Macemore, one of his former basketball and tennis players who succeeded him as coach.
His interest in tennis grew during retirement years. Tennis became his best sport — on court and off.
He and his tennis friends participated in many tournaments at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and on Neil Finger’s court at Lake Norman, and when they weren’t playing, they were watching tennis (or football) on TV.
In 2002, he and his brother, Charles, gave their father’s boyhood home high on a hill overlooking Elkin and the Mineral Springs Shoals to the Yadkin County Historical Society, a decision instrumental in the creation of the Jonesville historical group that in 2003 sponsored the first Old Jonesville Day, later to become Jonesville Jubilee.
It was during this event that a collection of the coach’s Jonesville High School sports memorabilia was first exhibited. The exhibit is now housed in the Jonesville History Center, which is open on most Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
He and his brother gave their father’s former store on West Main Street to the Jonesville Historical Society for use as the history center.
They also gave the society the site of their mother’s childhood home on River Road, now Historic Mineral Springs Park and location of a veterans monument created with railings salvaged from the former Hugh Chatham Memorial Bridge by Dr. Judy Wolfe, one of the coach’s former students and basketball players.
Mathis and his late wife, the former Jean Payne, a Jonesville teacher, had two daughters, Janie Mathis Westra and Joy Mathis, who were with him when he passed away shortly before midnight.