'I Did It!' Golden Moment Our Ice Prince Shows His Mettle At Games

Posted: August 09, 1999

ST. LOUIS — It seemed to take forever for the officials to post the final standings in the juvenile boys freestyle on Saturday evening. Quietly, Joey Jones chatted among his fellow skaters from Philadelphia as his coach, Jimi Lewis, stood off to the side with his equipment bag and looked out on the crowded lobby at U.S. Sports Complex with an expression of concern. While he was certain that Joey had skated well enough to place in the top three in the competition, he conceded that he could not begin to guess what the judges would do.

"This is just so subjective," said Lewis. "I just know he did well."

Minutes passed: Five, then 10, 15 . . .

Then, up walked an event official with a sheet of paper that held the order of finish.

The women squeezed through the buzzing crowd and up to the paper taped on the wall.

Quickly, Joey looked for his name and found it: "No. 1. Johansan Jones. Philadelphia . . . "

"I did it!" Joey shouted as he ran off to spread the word. "I got first! I won."

Lewis and choreographer Elizabeth Hollett sighed in relief.

Joey ran up to his mom Karen and hugged her.

"My baby," she said through tears. "I am so proud of you."

Up against national competition at the State Games of America for the first time in his still embryonic figure-skating career, Joey Jones, 13, appeared to surprise himself with how well he did this weekend: The former homeless lad from Southwest Philadelphia won a gold and a bronze in the three events in which he participated.

Supported financially in his quest for figure-skating stardom by Flyers owner Ed Snider and Daily News readers, Joey has come far since he and his mom were evicted from their North Philadelphia in 1996 and were forced to enter a church shelter. He began skating only a year and a half ago.

A Daily News profile on Joey in March prompted readers to contribute better than $10,000 to a fund the paper established to help him along in his figure-skating career.

Joey glowed as he held his medals in his hand.

"This is what I have always dreamed of: To come out here and win one of these," said Joey, who skates out of the Ice Works Twin Rinks in Aston, Pa. "I told myself to just come out here and have fun and that was what I did."

See for yourself just how fun it was. Here is how his weekend unfolded:

Friday

Joey sat on a bench in the chilly locker room at the St. Peters Rec-Plex and unzipped his equipment bag. Scheduled to compete in less than an hour in the Advanced Spotlight category, he sorted through the contents of the bag until he found what he was looking for: His Beanie Baby "Rainbow."

He grinned and explained, "My good luck charm."

Joey, his mom and Lewis had flown in from Philadelphia on Wednesday afternoon (Snider picked up the tab for the trip). Grandmother Betty had come in earlier in the week "just to do some sightseeing."

Joey registered for his events, swam in the hotel pool and socialized with some of the other Philadelphia skaters who had come to the competition. Joey practiced his program on Thursday and showed on Friday not just to skate himself but to cheer on his friends.

Joey skated exceptionally well when his opportunity came. The Advanced Spotlight is an event that calls for the skater to act out a character, and Joey drew big applause when he skated out on the ice in Caribbean garb to a Calypso recording.

Poised, he executed his program with hands and facial gestures that revealed just how excited he was to be there. He even got down on his back and slid across the ice as if were doing the backstroke.

The crowd loved it.

The judges were somewhat less impressed.

Joey placed fourth.

Judge Nan Gunderman placed him as low as eighth.

Joey shrugged and said with a frown that he was not disappointed. But Karen Jones said, "He is disappointed. If he had won, he would have been running around here with a big smile on his face."

The Philadelphia group headed back to their suburban hotel.

"Oh well," Lewis said. "There is always tomorrow."

Saturday

Lewis saw to it that Joey got some extra rest on Saturday. Because Joey would not be competing until 9:30 p.m. that evening (10:30 p.m. in Philadelphia), Lewis was concerned that the late hour would be a problem. He told Joey to take a hot bath and a nap that afternoon.

Observed Lewis, "We knew we would have a long day ahead of us."

Scheduled to be the second skater to perform in the nine-male field (which included participants other than Joey from Oregon, Missouri, Wyoming, Massachusetts, Iowa, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania), Joey peeled off his light jacket and began his warmups under the eye of Lewis and Hollett, who called him over and reminded: "Use (all of) the ice."

Joey nodded, then sped off again to practice his spins.

Karen Jones sat in the bleachers as her son warmed up and confessed: "I have the butterflies."

Joey executed his program with graceful command. Even though he has only been skating for a year and a half, he proceeded through the program that Hollet had choreographed for him with a light-hearted jauntiness. Because his coaches had been impressing upon him of late the need for hitting his jumps with increased speeds, Joey found himself getting ahead of the music at certain points. To the utter delight of Lewis and Hollett, Joey added what Hollett called "some improvisational embellishments" to carry him through. He bowed to the judges and skated off the ice with a big smile of his face.

"Wonderful!" Lewis said. "Well done!"

None of the five judges placed Joey lower than second place; three placed him first. Excitedly, Joey draped the gold medal around his neck and posed for photographs with the second-place finisher, Eric Reinhart, of Oregon, and the third-place finisher, Philadelphian Stephen Quinn.

Joey laughed and said, "Way to go, Stephen."

Quinn smiled and replied, "Congratulations, Joey."

Yesterday

Joey celebrated with everyone back at the hotel on Saturday but soon fell asleep. He got up yesterday and headed out early with the coaches to the arena. There, Joey looked on as Ice Works teammate Joey Suchodolski won a gold medal to go with the two bronzes he had won earlier in the weekend.

Joey then prepared for his final event of the weekend: Advanced Footwork. He had never before appeared in a separate competition for Advanced Footwork, which Hollett said is designed to "show off skating skills and not just jumps and spins."

"This is good for him," said Hollett. "It should be interesting."

Joey skated well in the event. In a field of 10 male and female skaters, Joey crisscrossed the ice in a series of intricate steps that Hollett said he had performed well. Joey himself was pleased enough with his effort, but conceded that he "slipped up in some places."

The judges placed him third.

Only one of the judges placed him lower than fourth - judge Nan Gunderman ranked him 10th.

"This has been a good weekend for Joey," Lewis said. "Considering how long he has been skating, for him to come to a national championship and do as well as he did here is incredible."

Lewis paused and then added, "But there is still a lot of work to be done."

Joey knows that.

He sat on a picnic bench on the lush grounds of the arena and pondered the ups and downs of the weekend.

He came here not knowing how he would fare in the national spotlight.

He said he would go home with a better idea of how he stacks up.

"Mainly, though," he said with a smile. "I am just happy to have it over with it."

Today, he and the others will take an afternoon flight back home. He thought when he came out here that he would like to get something to bring back that was unique to St. Louis, that he could not get back in Philadelphia. He planned to do some shopping in order to find it.

Then it occurred to him.

"I already got it," he said.

He held up the two medals he won here and observed, "I got these."

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