By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Ali Ford didn’t play in the NCAA Tournament for Elon’s women’s basketball team, but when the Phoenix finally reached that level, there was a certain amount of pride for her.
“Even though we didn’t get to experience that part of it when we were playing, it gave us a sense of definitely being proud,” Ford said. “After we left, it kept growing and getting bigger.”
Ford’s role in helping the women’s program emerge on the Division I scene and her spot as a starting infielder for the university’s softball team helped her land a place in Elon Sports Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022.
Ford is joined by Jeannie Hairston-Eason, a basketball and volleyball player (1978-82), Tony Pigott, a baseball standout (1995-97) who went on to a pro career; and men’s tennis player Cameron Silverman (2010-14), who was on two Southern Conference championship teams and an NCAA Tournament individual participant.
The induction takes place at 2:00 p.m. Saturday at Schar Center in advance of Elon’s football game against Gardner-Webb a few hours later.
Ford made her biggest mark on the basketball court as a guard, receiving all-Southern Conference recognition four times and racking up 2,020 career points to rank second in team history. She holds the program’s 3-point basket record with 338 and the career mark for free-throw shooting (82.6 percent).
She spent two seasons under coach Karen Barefoot and two more under current coach Charlotte Smith. She said she appreciated Smith’s influence, particularly because she was recruited by another coach.
“She was great for my development,” Ford said. “She was able to put me in my place, but I think that grew me as a player and a person.”
Ford spent three seasons on the softball team, including during her fifth year on campus. She said she most enjoyed her spot near the bottom of the batting order because if she got on base, there was a chance that sluggers Tomeka Watson (Class of 2021 Hall of Famer) and Carleigh Nester would drive her home.
“I got front-row seats for that show for three years,” she said. “That was pretty cool. When I think back at my time at Elon, it’s right up there with basketball. … It seemed low pressure. They’re not paying the bills (because I was on a basketball scholarship) so they can’t get too mad at me.”
One reason Ford, who’s from Morganton, said she opted for an extra year at the school was the positive vibes she received within the athletics department. She said athletics director Dave Blank, senior woman administrator Faith Shearer and director of academic support services Cayce Crenshaw helped create an ideal atmosphere.
“I definitely think I had the support as a student-athlete,” she said. “I was surrounded by first-class athletes and people.”
Since Elon, Ford spent a season of overseas professional basketball in Iceland before time on the coaching staffs under Barefoot at Old Dominion and UNC Wilmington. She then became an assistant coach at Colorado State-Pueblo, a Division II school.
“I don’t think coaching was in my blood,” Ford said. “It was never as fun to me as playing.”
Now, she works selling fitness equipment in Denver, where she lives. She said she has taken a liking to mountain biking.