Hall of Fame basketball coach and Indian Valley North graduate Gene Ford died Friday from cancer at the age of 67.
A long-time coach at Cambridge High School who went on to coach at Muskingum College, Ford coached teams at Shenandoah, Tuscarawas Valley and Cambridge to 400 victories.
Ford was a 5-foot-8 guard who averaged 27.6 points as a senior at Indian Valley North High School in 1969-70 while earning a spot on the Class A All-Ohio first team.
After scoring 1,310 career points, he moved to Muskingum College where he earned four letters and scored 1,717 points — second most in school history. He was "Athlete of the Year" in the Ohio Athletic Conference and made UPI’s "Small America" squad.
Ford coached his first team at Shenandoah High School and then spent five seasons at Tuscarawas Valley High School. After a move to Cambridge High School in 1980, he found true success. Over 25 years his teams won 400 and lost 183 — a .686 winning percentage. The Bobcats of Guernsey County had 11 seasons with 19 or more victories and five state tournament appearances. They were state Division II runners-up in 1994-95.
Ford was head coach at Muskingum University from 2007-2015.
Dover boys head basketball coach Bob Von Kaenel and his Tornadoes had many memorable matchups with Ford and his Bobcats.
"It's a very sad day," commented Von Kaenel. "We had some pretty good battles over the years. He was a great friend and person. Win or lose, we had a lot of mutual respect."
"He was one of a kind," added Von Kaenel, who succeeded Ford at Tusky Valley. "I was hired as his eighth-grade coach at Tusky Valley and he moved to Cambridge and had great success down there. He was quite a character. He always had stories."
Former New Philadelphia head boys basketball coach Phil Tidrick had known Ford since he was a little boy.
"It's quite a shock, really," said Tidrick, who would visit his relatives in Midvale and often see Ford. "I knew he was ill, but I didn't know how serious it was. It's a shock, but he's in a better place right now and he's not suffering and not in any pain anymore."
"It was always a lot of fun (matching wits with Ford)," recalled Tidrick. "You knew he was an icon not only in this area, but across the state. You knew his teams were going to be so well prepared and well coached. You were going to have to bring your 'A' game if you had any chance of winning."
"He was a gracious winner, gracious loser and just a great storyteller," Tidrick continued laughingly. "He was great storyteller. There's something about Midvale. Gene, Ed Leggett and Bobby Huggins. Those three guys were great storytellers."
When Tidrick was first hired as the head coach at New Philadelphia, the first thing he did was talk to Ford.
"He played for my uncle (Pete Hilliard) at North and I would try to pick his brain a bit," said Tidrick. "He was a really good person. Basketball lost a good one. He was the best 5-8 post player I ever saw in my life."
Jeremy Ady, who played against Ford as a member of Von Kaenel's Tornadoes, also had the pleasure of playing under Ford at Muskingum.
'It's a sad day," said Ady, who recently was hired as the new head boys basketball coach at Fairless. "He brought laughter to the game. He made it fun for kids and even in stressful times, always had a joke. He really should have been a comedian."
"He was a great guy with great character," added Ady. "On top of all of that, he was a great basketball coach. We lost a great one. He was a friend of mine and I am able to say I went up against him and played for him. I had the best of both worlds."
Former Claymont head coach Jim Riley said Ford's loss is a big one.
"I have a lot of good memories of Gene, but my heart breaks today," said Riley, whose teams played against the Bobcats on a regular basis.
"It didn't matter if we won or lost, we always met after the games and were able to talk as friends. His kids and our kids ... there was never any dirty play. There was always a great respect among our players and our coaching staffs."
Riley said his relationship with Ford went back to their childhoods.
"He lived in Midvale and he would ride his bike to Uhrichsville to play basketball," Riley recalled. "Gene was always around. From the time he was a little kid, he was always respected and he was a great athlete."
A celebration of life for Ford has been set for Saturday, July 6 from 10 am. to noon at Gene Ford Gymnasium in Cambridge.