I made Holly Ford mad once. If you knew coach Ford, who didn’t have a mean bone in her body, you know that was no easy task. But, I managed to do it, and I’m glad.
More on that later.
Coach Ford died on Sunday. She was 60. I’m not sure what that number equates to in coach years. I’ve often said being a coach and being a sportswriter are a lot alike. The job will age you quickly on some days, but most of the time you’ll wake up in the morning and realize there is nothing else you’d rather do.
Coach Ford did that – waking up each morning with a smile, a purpose and the knowledge she was making a difference – for almost 40 years.
I came to the Longview News-Journal late in the fall of 1997. In the spring of 1998, I began getting regular reports from coach Ford about her Spring Hill tennis kids.
The reports were great. Plenty of information. Correctly spelled names. Almost no editing required – although she always added “Feel free to edit to newspaper style” with every report.
They were basically a sportswriter’s dream.
And then one day I edited her report.
The report came to me a little late. Typically I would have simply held for a day, but it was a big match so I scrambled, killed another story off the page and edited the report down to fit the space I had.
When I got to the office the next day, I had a message to call coach Ford – immediately, if not sooner.
I dialed the number expecting her to thank me for getting the story in so quickly, but instead I got a tail-chewing that would have made my own hot-tempered, redheaded mama proud.
Somehow, in all the editing and scrambling I did to get the story in the newspaper quickly, I cut some names out of the report. It was unintentional, but coach Ford was furious.
I’d like to say we ended up having a productive conversation, but in a conversation both sides get to talk. I did nothing but listen, and what I remember most was coach Ford saying “My kids work too hard to be shortchanged that way.”
Of course, the next time she saw me, coach Ford hugged me and made sure everything was OK between us. She apologized for how she delivered the message, but not the message itself.
And, she was right. It was an honest mistake, but that didn’t excuse the fact I had let some kids down.
I respected the heck out of her for fighting for her kids, and almost 22 years later I still recall that conversation on nights I’m sitting in the office typing reports for 20 or 30 games from various sports.
I don’t know all of the details of coach Ford’s death, but I did hear – and I confirmed – one thing that speaks volumes about her. She didn’t show up at church on Sunday, and that immediately caused concern among those who knew her.
Holly Ford won a ton of tennis matches as a coach and dozens of awards based on the success of her teams on the courts. Put those wins and accolades aside, however, and consider this as her true legacy.
She spent almost 40 years doing a sometimes thankless job, always protected the kids entrusted to her like a mama bear, and the only time she surprised her church family was the day she wasn’t able to come and serve with them.
Rest easy, coach.
Services for Holly Ford are set for 2 p.m. Thursday at East Mountain Baptist Church in East Mountain. The family will receive friends from 6-9 p.m. today at Croley Funeral Home in Gladewater and Thursday from 1 p.m. until service time at the church.