Legendary Send-off for Jack Ford

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By Dan Doyon

Hampton Union, Tuesday, January 3, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

Former Winnacunnet High School boys basketball coach Jack Ford was honored for his 31 years of coaching between the girls and boys alumni games in the school’s new gymnasium. Ford’s wife, Pam, received a bouquet of flowers. [Photo by Andrew Moore]

HAMPTON -- After 31 years, the Winnacunnet High School community got its chance to say thank you to longtime boys basketball coach Jack Ford on Friday night.

Between the girls and boys alumni games, the legendary Class L coach was honored with a standing ovation by former players, coaches and students alike, paying tribute to a man who gave - and continues to give - to the Winnacunnet community.

The surroundings for the ceremony in Winnacunnet’s spacious new gymnasium may have been a bit strange to Ford, who taught many young men the game of basketball in the small confines of Dodge Gymnasium.

But the love shown to Ford and the admiration he showed to the community was nothing new.

Ford, 62, retired from the game he has been involved in as a player and coach for 50 years this past summer after leading Winnacunnet to the Class L quarterfinals in March.

Winnacunnet won the Class L title in 1992 and was the runner-up in 1981, 1995, 1996, 1997 and 2000 during Ford’s tenure.

"It’s kind of like a final farewell, but I’m still in the other building close to here, still teaching," Ford said.

Ford has taught English at Winnacunnet since 1974.

"I’d like to thank those responsible for this evening," Ford said. "It’s a good chance to speak to former players - some of whom are home from college - so it’s like a formal farewell."

One of those responsible for putting together the evening’s festivities is current Winnacunnet baseball coach and fellow English teacher Mike Daboul.

Daboul played for Ford on the 1992 title team and has developed a friendship with Ford that far extends his basketball days.

"I’ve been putting this together for two months now, trying to keep it a secret," said Daboul, who teaches in an adjacent room to Ford. "It’s very hard to keep a surprise from Jack Ford."

A new banner was revealed in Ford’s honor amongst a sea of banners that already covered the Winnacunnet gym. That banner simple said: "Jack Ford, Winnacunnet High School boys basketball coach, 1974-2005. Career Record 385-310."

But the wins and losses are just the start of things when it comes to telling the story of Ford’s legacy.

"He has been instrumental in a lot of peoples’ lives - coaching, teaching and being a friend," Daboul said. "That’s what he’s always done in his 31 years. His players walk out the door, and they’re not gone. They’re always in contact with him, and he’s always in contact with them."

Current Winnacunnet coach Jay McKenna played point guard under Ford, graduating in 1993.

When McKenna was a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, Ford asked him to help coach Winnacunnet as an assistant. McKenna jumped at the opportunity and spent 11 seasons coaching under Ford.

McKenna echoed Daboul’s sentiments.

"We’ve spent a lot of time together on the court and off the court, we traveled all over the States and all over the world," McKenna said. "I learned a lot of things about basketball and a lot of things about life from him and how to be successful at it. I can’t thank him enough. I can’t put into words what he means to me or what he means to a lot of guys."

"We always produced competitive teams and good people," Ford said. "The student-athletes move on to the next step of life and do quite well. They understand teamwork, they understand hard work, and turn into good people. I think we accomplished what the goals of those athletic programs are."

On the court, nobody out-worked the Warriors. Whether a team was talented or not, an opposing coach knew Winnacunnet would be tough.

"It was never easy for any team who played us," Ford said.

Ford did not have to use a lot of words to express his feelings to his players. His famous one-liners, dubbed "Fordisms," can still be heard in all his players’ minds.

Terms like "You can shoot or you can shower, but you can’t shoot and shower," "Educate your feet," and "Tommy Tunnel Vision," were some Fordisms listed in Friday’s program.

If the Warriors weren’t playing up to expectations, the players were sure to know about it. Through the times Ford yelled at and tried to motivate his players, Daboul said there was always a message.

"In one line, Jack could tell you what he was feeling, and you knew without a shadow of doubt what you had to do," Daboul said. "Get him in a locker room down by 10 points at halftime, and it’s a different bird. But even those times when he was upset, he was still coaching, still teaching."

"We went to Ireland and England a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t playing particularly well one game, and he took me out of the game and I hated him for 15 minutes," 2005 WHS grad Mike Whalley said. "Then he put me back in and I played pretty good, and he was the first guy who complimented me after the game. After that I had a new respect for him and the way he coached and how he conducted himself."

Ford said everybody has asked him two questions since he retired from basketball. First, "Do you miss it?" Second, "What are you doing with your free time?"

"Of course I miss it, there’s nothing like the adrenaline rush of coaching on Tuesday and Friday nights," Ford said. "But I also sleep a lot better on Tuesdays and Fridays now."

You can still find a more relaxed Ford attending each Warrior basketball game, but Ford has also started a foundation at the school in an effort to save academic programs in danger of budget cuts.

Ford’s idea was to get donations from alumni and family for commemorative bricks that will be displayed at the school.

"Thirty-one years," Daboul said. "People don’t coach or teach in one place for 31 years. That’s going to be his legacy. The wins and losses, the championships, don’t mean as much as the time he’s spent here, reaching so many people."

(See also, Winnacunnet's Jack Ford dies, leaving legacy on, off court; and Coach Ford Stepping Down; and Obituary of Jack Ford and other tributes)
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