Fifty years ago, Coolidge Ball broke down walls at the University of Mississippi. On May 15, Ole Miss’ first Black student-athlete will be celebrated with a life-size, bronze likeness erected in the north plaza of The Pavilion.
Designed by renowned Mississippi sculptor Kim Sessums, the statue will sit on a four-foot-tall limestone base and will include a historical marker to reflect on Ball’s impact as a civil rights pioneer. The monument, which was funded with a generous gift from Bill and Lee Anne Fry, will be dedicated in a private ceremony due to COVID restrictions.
“Coolidge Ball is a trailblazer whose lasting legacy at the University of Mississippi is reflected in how he braved uncharted territory and, in doing so, helped to move the university and our state forward,” said UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce. “As the first Black student-athlete to enroll here, Coolidge opened the door of opportunity for countless other student-athletes. This statue is a well-deserved and fitting honor that ensures his courage will always be remembered and celebrated by our university and our fans.”
“Our university is forever indebted to Coolidge Ball for the courage he showed 50 years ago,” said Keith Carter, Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics. “With this strength, humility and kindness, Coolidge provided a beacon of light for our community while setting an example for generations of student-athletes, both on and off the court. We are eternally grateful to Coolidge for his contributions to civil rights and for his leadership for Ole Miss.”
“I’m very grateful to be distinguished in this way,” Ball said. “When I first came to campus, I never dreamed that 50 years later I would be recognized as a part of our university’s history. While I’m proud of my accomplishments on the court, I’m truly honored to be viewed as someone who paved the way for future student-athletes. I’m really excited to see the statue go up and look forward to the ceremony.”
On August 6, 1970, Ball signed the Rebels’ last available basketball scholarship for that season. The Indianola, Mississippi, native was recruited by other schools such as Arizona State, Northwestern and New Mexico State, but his decision to attend Ole Miss opened the door for future Black student-athletes to make their way to the Oxford campus to wear the Red and Blue, not just in basketball, but other sports as well.
Ball’s ground-breaking career at Ole Miss saw him earn first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors from the league coaches in 1972 and 1973. He also earned second-team All-SEC honors from the Associated Press in 1972 and 1973, was selected to the United Press International third team during all three of his varsity seasons (1972-73-74) and made the All-SEC Freshman team in 1970-71.
His first varsity season came his sophomore year when he averaged 16.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while leading the team with 42 assists. He scored a career-high 30 points against Vanderbilt and LSU that season and added a career-high 19-rebound performance against Southern Miss.
Ball was instrumental in helping Ole Miss defeat SEC rivals Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi State in consecutive games in 1973. He scored 1,072 points during his varsity career, helped lead the Rebels to three straight winning seasons for the first time since 1936-38 and was one of the team’s most respected players, earning team captain and MVP honors.
A 1975 graduate of the University of Mississippi, Ball was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Ole Miss Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991 and was a member of the SEC Basketball Legends Class of 2005. When the University of Mississippi celebrated its “First 100 Years of Ole Miss Basketball” in 2009, it came as no surprise when Ball was selected to the All-Century Team.
Since 1979, Ball has owned and operated Ball Sign Company, a business he started upon his return to Oxford after a four-year stint coaching basketball at Northwest Mississippi Community College.
Ball and his wife, Ruth, have two children, Telitha and Anthony. Telitha lives in Desoto County, while Anthony resides in Arkansas and has two sons, Mason and Marion.
Courtesy of Ole Miss Sports