Coolidge Ball, first Black student-athlete at Ole Miss, passes away

Published 10:51 am Wednesday, August 30, 2023

The Ole Miss community lost a pioneer with the death of Coolidge Ball, who passed away at the age of 71 on Tuesday.

“Emily and I are saddened by the news of Coolidge Ball’s passing,” said Chancellor Glenn Boyce. “He was a pioneer and a trailblazer whose immense courage opened the door for countless student-athletes at our university and in our state. Coolidge was widely respected for his strength, humility and kindness and will always be remembered as an extraordinary source of inspiration. We extend our deepest condolences and prayers to his family and loved ones.”

Ball signed his scholarship with Ole Miss in August of 1970 to play for the men’s basketball team after receiving offers from countless top schools across the country. The Indianola, Miss., native decided to stay in his home state, where he would become the first Black student-athlete at Ole Miss and break barriers for future generations, not just in men’s basketball, but all sports.

Coolidge Ball speaks as a statue of him is dedicated outside the Pavilion at Ole Miss, in Oxford, Miss. on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (©Bruce Newman)

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Visitation is set for Friday at 3 p.m. at the Tallahatchie-Oxford Missionary Baptist Association Building. The funeral service will also take place at the facility on Saturday at noon.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Coolidge Ball — the greatest trailblazer in the history of Ole Miss Athletics,” said Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter. “He not only broke down walls for future generations of student-athletes, but also provided an example for all those who followed him. Coolidge remained an active member of the Ole Miss family throughout his life and always blew me away with his grace and kindness. Our university is forever grateful for his impact as a student athlete, civil rights leader and friend to us all.”

Following a selection to the 1971 All-Southeastern Conference Freshman Team, he played his first varsity season the following year. As a sophomore, Ball led the team by averaging a double-double at 16.8 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and was named to the All-SEC Second Team in 1972. He followed up with all-conference honors the following year, and was a three-time United Press International honoree in each of his three varsity seasons.

He scored more than 1,072 points while at Ole Miss and guided the Rebels to three consecutive winning seasons from 1972 to 1974, the first time for the program since 1936 to 1938. Earning team captain and MVP honors, Ball was one of the most respected players in the men’s basketball program and on campus.

Ball earned numerous accolades following his playing career at Ole Miss. He was inducted into the Ole Miss Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991, the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, and was named an SEC Basketball Legend in the class of 2005. He earned a spot on the Ole Miss Men’s Basketball All-Century Team in 2009, and in 2021, was honored with a bronze statue that stands outside in the Pavilion Plaza.

After graduating in 1975, Ball coached basketball for four years at Northwest Mississippi Community College. In 1979, Ball owned and operated Ball Sign Company in Oxford.