- Matt Colville
A. B. Howard Gymnasium - Jones College Bobcats
Photos by Matt Colville, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.71
A. B. Howard Gymnasium 33 College Dr Ellisville, MS 39437
Jones College Bobcats website A. B. Howard Gymnasium website
Year Opened: 1927 Capacity: 2,200
The Free State of Jones
Jones College is a Junior College located in downtown Ellisville, Mississippi. The college originally opened as an agricultural high school in 1911, before beginning to offer junior college classes in 1927. Today Jones College is one of 15 teams that make up the Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conferences (MACCC) for basketball. Nicknamed the Bobcats, the first year of athletics at Jones began in 1927 and currently sponsors 11 sports. The Bobcats compete in NJCAA Division 1 Region 23, which also includes some Louisiana schools.
In over 80 years of basketball at Jones the Bobcats have won six State (MACCC) Championships and have been Region 23 Champions three times. But perhaps the greatest feat in Bobcat Basketball history happened at the end of the 2013-14 season, when the Bobcats won their first NJCAA National Championship. The Bobcats were coached at the time by current Southern Miss Head Coach Jay Ladner, who was named Junior College Coach of the Year that season.
Food and Beverage 2
There is one small concession stand in the lobby of the gym. They don't sell much here as the menu only consists of popcorn ($3), candy, and canned cokes ($2). The gym is attached to the Student Union, however, which has a Taco Bell and a small restaurant called The Grill – both places are open during games, however you have to walk outside the gym and around through another entrance to get to the union. Though there is technically a no re-entry policy, I was able to talk the lady taking tickets at the front into letting me leave and come back, and she seemed relaxed.
The Bobcats play at the Historic A.B. Howard Gymnasium, formerly known as Bobcat Gym. Opened in 1954 the gym is named after the winningest coach in Jones College history, A. B. Howard. Howard is a former standout running back on Mississippi State's 1941 SEC Championship team. He came to Jones College in 1950 as the football coach, serving in that position until 1961, and serving as the basketball coach until 1977. After retiring from coaching he was the Jones College Athletic Director from 1977-1982.
From the outside the gym looks like any other building on campus, as it is attached to the Student Union and campus police station. There is only one main entrance to get to the gym, on the north side of the building. The surrounding walkway walking up to the building on the north side is quite pretty during Christmas – they have a giant Christmas tree lit up right outside with decorations all around the building; it definitely sets the mood if you are attending a game during the holiday season. Once inside there is a spacious lobby with a trophy case and a banner commemorating the 2014 National Championship Team. The National Championship trophy is also on display in the rack, as well as Jay Ladner's Coach of the Year plaque.
Once inside the gym it is basically laid out like an old high school gym. There are 15 rows of wooden bleachers on each side of the court, which can hold about 2,200 people. The ceiling is made of the typical ceiling tile you would find in a classroom, and a large A/C unit sits hoisted up at the east end of the court, next to a basic scoreboard that just shows the score. The one cool thing that stands out is the large banner of the basketball team that takes up the entire east side wall, as well as all 10 of the MACCC Champions Banners, and the large 2014 National Championship banner standing out above center court, adding to the intimidation for visiting teams.
Downtown is just a couple of blocks off campus and features a historic courthouse, with a square of historic buildings that date back to the 1800s. Ellisville is one of the oldest cities in Mississippi, and you can definitely tell by walking around downtown – many of the buildings still look like they did over 100 years ago. A couple of restaurants to check out downtown include Casadores Mexican Grill, Karocks (which is a chicken and BBQ joint), and Bosun Suns, a popular seafood restaurant located in an old historic hotel.
Another interesting place to check out in downtown Ellisville is the Amos Deason House. The house was built in 1845 and gained historical significance because of a small Civil War skirmish in 1863 that resulted in the death of the house’s owner. The House is rumored to be haunted, and is considered one of the most haunted places in the South – it has been featured on numerous TV shows. Deason House is located a couple of blocks away from campus, and if in town on Saturdays they give tours of the historic home. The events that unfolded at the house were adapted into the 2016 movie ‘Free State of Jones’ starring Matthew McConaughey.
The Bobcats average a couple hundred fans per game. You'll find a mix of all kinds of people scattered throughout the gym. There is no permanent student section, although most of the students will sit in the bleachers on the east side of the building behind the home bench. There were also a good number of visiting fans sitting on the west side bleachers at the most recent game I was at. There is no student band or mascot walking around, although there are cheerleaders pumping up the crowd.
Getting to Ellisville is very simple; the small town is conveniently located off Interstate 59 about 20 minutes north of Hattiesburg and 5 minutes south of Laurel. The campus is located at Exit 58, a few miles past the interstate on Highway 590. Getting to campus can be quite easy, however finding the Gym can be quite difficult. As mentioned, the Gym blends in with the surrounding buildings and is a part of the Union, so it can hard to find without a campus map. However, the building is located right next to the big green quad at the center of campus.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets are $8 to attend a Bobcats game, which I consider reasonable for basketball at this level. Don't come expecting many concessions though, as I would definitely recommend getting something to eat before coming to the game, or eating at the Taco Bell attached to the building. The Bobcats have also sent over 100 players to the next level, so you are potentially seeing some future D1 basketball players on the court. The Bobcats are consistently one of the better teams in the MACCC every year as well, and have the NJCAA National Championship to add to their resume.
The Bobcats assistant coach for the 2022-23 season is former NBA player Clarence Weatherspoon. The Mississippi native and Southern Miss alum had been the assistant coach for his alma matter for the past six seasons, until he got job at Jones. Weatherspoon was selected 9th overall in the 1992 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers. He had a 14-year career for six NBA teams, and finished second in the 1993 All-Star Game Dunk Contest his rookie year. Weatherspoon was nicknamed "Little Barkley" during his first few seasons, as the Sixers drafted him three days after trading away Charles Barkley. Because of both players' similar builds, Weatherspoon was drafted to the Sixers as the subsequent heir to Barkley.
The Jones College football team also made history in 1955, when they played in the Junior Rose Bowl in Pasadena for the NJCAA National Championship against Compton (CA) College. Though the Bobcats lost that game, they made history by becoming the first sports team from Mississippi to play against an integrated team with black players. Under the threat of losing state funding, the college president assured his team that they would get a chance to play for a national title. There is a nice historical marker as well as a plaque dedicated to this game outside the gymnasium.
Some of the more notable alumni of Jones College include two-time national champion quarterback at Georgia, Stetson Bennett and Super Bowl XXXIX (2005) MVP for the Patriots Deion Branch, as well as Grey Cup winning quarterback, and the college's only member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Jackie Parker. Seahawks Safety Jonathan Abram, UFC Heavyweight Chase Sherman, and Western Actor Red West round out the list of interesting names to attend this small college.