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'GET TO' | Muskegon man's mantra changing lives even after his passing

Ben Jones, a graduate of Muskegon Catholic Central High, died in a car accident in 2020. His loved ones have since started a foundation in his honor.

MUSKEGON, Mich. — The hot summer sun beats down on Muskegon Catholic Central's practice football field. It's the type of day where you get sweaty just from being outside. Just before 3:30 p.m., the doors from the locker room crack open as football players emerge. Their job today isn't easy. They need to battle the heat in full gear, while being mentally and physically at their best, as they prepare for the long season ahead.

This is exactly the type of day Ben Jones's motto "Get To" was born on.

"It started here at Muskegon Catholic, at a JV football practice in August. Everyone was kind of dragging their feet on the way to practice and he comes out and says 'Hey guys, can you believe this? We get to play football today. Can you believe that? We get to play football,'" recalls Ben's younger brother, Nate.

His teammates didn't take the idea too seriously at first. But Ben kept repeating the mantra, instilling in his teammates that football wasn't some kind of chore they had to do. It was something they get to do.

Credit: Provided
Ben Jones (62) leading Muskegon Catholic Central on the field in a game against Mendon.

There must have been something to it. The Crusaders won the state championship twice while Ben was at Muskegon Catholic Central once in 2006 when he was a sophomore, and once in 2008 when he was a senior.

Ben went on to play at Hillsdale College. His best friend, Tim Hornak, who also played football for Muskegon Catholic Central and Hillsdale, says that the "Get To" attitude followed Ben to college.

"We were running out on the field in the middle of fall camp. It was 100 degrees on the field and we were kind of dragging a little bit, and he was like 'Hey boys, they're letting us play football. We get to play football. How cool is that?'" Hornak said.

After college, Ben became the coach at Cranbrook Kingswood on the east side of the state. "Get To" was their team motto. It was all over their gear and their team shirts, and Ben explained to each one of his players what those two words meant to him.

Credit: Provided
Ben Jones coaching at Cranbrook Kingswood.

On August 19, 2020 Ben was on his way home from meeting with one of his players when his loved ones say he was killed in a car accident.

"That was life changing from that moment on. You know, you never expect it to be you, and you never want it to be you. But for us in that moment, it was us and we had to figure out how we can move forward without our best friend, my brother," Nate said.

As they were grieving, Tim and his wife had a bonfire. A bunch of former players from Hillsdale were there.

"And it just kind of popped up. Ben had so much to give to his community and to the kids. He no longer gets to coach and we need to do something. And ultimately, we want to just start something in his honor," Tim said.

That something ended up being the Get To Foundation.

"The mission is to help continue Ben Jones's legacy of inspiring others to live with the 'Get To' motto, so that obligations and obstacles become opportunities," Nate said.

To do that, the Get To Foundation provides scholarships, grants and an ambassador program. One of their grants, in partnership with the West Michigan Whitecaps Foundation, helped the Ted Rasberry Youth Baseball League in Grand Rapids build two fields.

"That's just a small example of something that we're looking to do and build on throughout the state of Michigan," said Tim, who now serves as the president of the Get To Foundation.

The foundation is accepting donations and seeking corporate partnerships so they can continue the work they're doing. They're also looking for volunteers.

"We are always looking for more help. We're an entirely volunteer-based organization, so everyone's donating their time to make a lot happen, and we could use some more hands to help," Nate said.

Both Tim and Nate have been thinking about what Ben would say if he were alive today to see all the good that's being done in his name.

"He would be so proud and beyond grateful that this is just something that's going to live forever," Tim said.

But according to Nate, his big brother would remind him that there's still a lot more work to be done.

"He's a football coach at heart, and he's never satisfied. We always can strive to be even greater. I think he'd be proud of the work that we're doing, but I think he'd still challenge us to keep reaching even higher."

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