Ole Miss unveils statue of basketball legend Coolidge Ball

Published 2:10 pm Monday, May 17, 2021

Ole Miss Athletics

When fans come back to Ole Miss football and basketball games later this year, a trailblazing Rebel will welcome them at The Pavilion Plaza. A bronze statue of Coolidge Ball, Ole Miss’ first Black student-athlete, was unveiled in the plaza during a private ceremony Saturday afternoon. (May 15).

“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Ball. “I’m excited about having a statue. I never dreamed of having one, and I thank the University for it.”

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Ball’s legacy will continue to live on forever with the statue serving as a reminder to his impact on Ole Miss. Designed by renowned Mississippi sculptor Kim Sessums, the statue sits on a four-foot-tall limestone base and includes an historical marker to reflect on Ball’s impact as a civil rights pioneer. The monument was funded with a generous gift from Bill and Lee Anne Fry.

“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.”

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.

Ball ended the special day by throwing out the first pitch at the Ole Miss baseball game against No. 2 Vanderbilt.