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Hilmar native at top of her game in 'Glee'

Shannon Beiste (former Fresno State track star Dot-Marie Jones) center, takes over McKinley High’s football team after Coach Ken Tanaka suffers a nervous breakdown on "Glee."
Shannon Beiste (former Fresno State track star Dot-Marie Jones) center, takes over McKinley High’s football team after Coach Ken Tanaka suffers a nervous breakdown on "Glee."

Years of throwing the shot put and professional arm wrestling left Hilmar native Dot-Marie Jones with a bum right shoulder. It got so bad that Jones was scheduled to have surgery in January to place a metal cap on her humerus. She canceled the hospital visit when her hand started to itch.

"Every time my palm itches I book a job," Jones says. "It was driving me nuts, so I knew I needed to postpone the surgery."

Two days later, she was cast in an episode of the cable series "Hawthorne," which turned into a five-episode arch. While shooting the series, Jones got a call from her agent. Ryan Murphy, the man behind "Glee," wanted to know if she would be available in mid-July.

Murphy, who had cast Jones in "Nip/Tuck" and the TV pilot "Pretty Handsome," wanted Jones for a recurring role on his Fox series "Glee." She was cast as Coach Shannon Beiste, who takes over McKinley High's football team when Coach Ken Tanaka (Patrick Gallagher) has a nervous breakdown.

"They guaranteed me I would be in five of the first 13 episodes, and I've already been in six of the nine shows shot for this year." she said.

This Tuesday, she has a big story line with Clovis East grad Chris Colfer. "I had heard Chris was from Clovis," Jones says. "When I told him I went to Fresno State, he was excited."

Jones' connection to the Valley started when the Hilmar native transferred to Fresno State in 1984 after spending two years at Modesto Junior College. She'd only been out of high school a year when she entered -- and won -- her first arm-wrestling competition.

The 6-foot-4 Jones went on to be a 15-time World and six-time National arm-wrestling champion.

Jones worked at the Fresno County Juvenile Hall after graduating from college. She got involved in acting after meeting Shirley Eson, who played Sky on "American Gladiators," and auditioned for the 1992 competition series "Knights and Warriors."

Soon, Jones was facing down competitors as Lady Battleaxe. That led to roles on "Married With Children," "Roseanne," "Birds of Prey," "Lizzie McGuire" and other TV shows.

As for "Glee," there was never a question of whether Jones could handle the acting part but whether she could sing. "I can sing," she says with a laugh. "I'm no Mariah Carey, but I can carry a tune."

She's been told Coach Beiste will have to belt out a number this season.

Singing or not, Jones considers the "Glee" role one of the best she's ever had. "I was so happy to get a character with so much depth. She's tough on the outside but has this huge emotional heart. It's really a fantastic role," Jones says.

"I think what happens with this character is going to surprise a lot of people. I know I'm the luckiest person in this town because there are 5,000 behind me waiting to get a role like this and behind them are 5,000 more."

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