Former Northeast Mississippi Community College women's basketball coach Ricky Ford left his "Built Ford Tough" mark on many Lady Tiger teams since coming to Booneville in 1981.
Ford stepped away from the gymnasium at the conclusion of the 2011 season to assume the role of dean of student services and athletic director. The Pine Grove native now serves as president of the institution.
Building success on and off the court was what Ford consistently achieved since he began his tenure at then-Northeast Mississippi Junior College.
Taking over for Millard Lothenore, Ford claimed the inaugural victory of his collegiate coaching campaign in November 1981 when the Lady Tigers defeated Dyersburg State (Tenn.) Community College 79-59.
His first team, which comprised solely of freshmen, finished 14-11 and qualified for the Mississippi Junior College Athletic Association (MJCAA) North Division Tournament. Brenda Mayes of Biggersville served as Ford’s initial All-State selection.
That modest start signaled what eventually became a dynasty through the latter half of the twentieth century and into the next.
Ford eclipsed the 20-win plateau for the first time one year later in the 1982-83 campaign. A 26-8 Lady Tiger team finished as the runner-up in both the MJCAA North Division and State Tournaments to reigning national champion Northwest Mississippi Junior College.
That year began an intense rivalry between Northeast and the Lady Rangers. The teams squared off for the next several seasons often with championship gold on the line.
Ford’s Lady Tigers exacted a bit of revenge in 1984 when they beat Northwest twice during the regular season. Northeast claimed the host spot of the MJCAA State Tournament at Bonner Arnold Coliseum and finished in second place after beating Copiah-Lincoln Junior College and losing a heartbreaking 72-70 decision to East Mississippi Junior College.
The Lady Rangers ended Northeast’s season at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Region 23 Tournament. The Lady Tigers recorded a 20-7 record.
Northeast improved upon its mark in 1985 and finally broke through one of its obstacles. After setting the tone with a 103-63 victory over Northwest Alabama Junior College (now Northwest-Shoals Community College) to kick-start the campaign, the Lady Tigers ran the table and won the MJCAA State Tournament.
Northwest again got in the Lady Tigers way of advancing to the NJCAA National Tournament with their second straight win in as many years between the two colleges in Region 23 play.
Ford would not be plagued by the Lady Rangers for a fourth season in a row as Northeast swept through its schedule.
The Lady Tigers entered postseason competition at 20-0. They first won the MJCAA North Division Tournament crown before securing the MJCAA State Tournament championship inside Bonner Arnold Coliseum with wins over Itawamba Junior College (94-59), East Mississippi (79-62) and Northwest (82-65).
Northeast then downed the Lady Rangers inside their own facility by a score of 88-62 on February 25, 1986 to secure Ford’s inaugural trip to the NJCAA National Tournament.
Played in Senatobia at Northwest’s Howard Coliseum, the Lady Tigers moved undefeated into the title matchup with Odessa (Tex.) Junior College. The Lady Wranglers put a wrinkle into a possible perfect season with an 80-69 win to claim top billing.
A 30-1 squad saw point guard Kunshinge Sorrell (Booneville) and forward Jackie Perry (Jackson, Tenn.) receive All-American honors. Kossuth native Robbie Rogers was also named a NJCAA Academic All-American.
Sorrell moved on to Mississippi State University where she cemented her name into the Southeastern Conference record books. She still holds the SEC record for most field goal attempts in a season with 699 (257 made).
The former Lady Bulldog standout led the conference in back-to-back seasons from 1987-88 and, in the first year of introduction of the three-point line to women’s college basketball, led the league with an average of 4.4 made per outing in 1988.
Sorrell was selected first-team All-SEC in both of her campaigns in Starkville and was a two-time SEC Player of the Week. She is tied for eighth all-time in the league for points per game in her career with 20.8 in 62 appearances.
It would not be long before Ford and his team returned to the NJCAA Tournament to bring back Northeast’s first, and only, national championship in any sport.
The Lady Tigers entered the 1986 Christmas holidays as the No. 2 team in the country and on a 13-game winning streak. They never let up once school resumed in the spring 1987 semester.
Northeast entered MJCAA North Division Tournament play as the top-ranked squad nationwide by the Associated Press (AP).
The Lady Tigers moved spotless through the North Division and State Tournaments and, with a victory over Utica Junior College, clinched a return trip to Senatobia and the NJCAA National Tournament.
Ford and his ladies capped the only perfect season in program history at 34-0 with a 68-64 win over St. Gregory’s (Okla.) Community College in the title matchup. The win won Ford the National Coach of the Year award and sealed his name in the record books forever.
Northeast added two more All-Americans that year with Sherry Slayton (Belmont) and Phyllis Stafford (Biggersville) receiving the honor. The duo signed to continue their playing careers for legendary coach Van Chancellor at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).
The 1987-88 edition captured the Lady Tigers’ fourth straight State Tournament championship with an 85-72 victory over Coahoma Community College, but failed to produce its third straight trip to Howard Coliseum for the NJCAA National Tournament.
Forwards Evelyn Thompson (LaGrange, Ga.) and Tiffany Sitton (Glen) were the fifth and sixth members Northeast women’s basketball stars in three years to become All-Americans. Thompson continued her days on the court at Auburn University.
Overall, Ford led his team to 15 North Division titles, nine Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges (MACJC) State Championships and three NJCAA Region 23 crowns during his illustrious career on the Northeast bench.
He found his way back into the NJCAA National Tournament for the last time in the 2005-06 season. The Lady Tigers went 24-6 and secured the MACJC State Tournament and Region 23 Tournament crowns.
Northeast was not as successful at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kan., as in previous trips, losing both of their outings, but still finished as the No. 21-ranked team in the country.
Ford was honored yet again for his brilliant job of instructing student athletes that season when he received the NJCAA Division I, District O, Region 23 Coach of the Year.
The veteran mentor led the Lady Tigers back to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in 2007 for an unmatched 25th straight year after they once again repeated as MACJC North Division and State Tournament championships.
On March 7, 2011, Ford announced he was stepping down as women's basketball coach at Northeast following the conclusion of his 30th season at the helm of one of the most tradition rich programs in the state.
Ford ended his career at Northeast with an overall record of 588-226. He had just five sub-.500 seasons, the first of those did not come until his 2002-03 Lady Tigers went 11-12 but even they finished as the MACJC North Division runner-up.
Ford's passion for the game allowed the longtime headman to enjoy success over three decades at Northeast.
Prior to coming to Northeast, Ford built successful programs at Booneville High School coaching the Lady Devils for four years and the Blue Devils for a pair of seasons.
Ford's overall career record stands at 676-253, carrying a winning percentage of 72.7 percent into retirement. He was inducted into the Northeast Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 during its fourth class.
An alumnus of Northeast and former Tiger basketball player under NEMCC Hall of Fame coach Kenneth Lindsey, Ford earned a bachelor's degree from Mississippi State University and a master's degree from the University of Mississippi.
Ford and his wife LuAnne have four children, Aaron, Lauren, Suzanne and Ben.