First Black Student-Athlete At Ole Miss, Coolidge Ball, Dies At 71

Coolidge Ball, the first Black student-athlete in the history of the University of Mississippi, has passed away at the age of 71.

Ole Miss Sports reported Ball signed his letter of intent to play basketball at Ole Miss in 1970, rebuffing offers from other universities across the nation. The Indianola, MS native played his first season with the school’s varsity team as a sophomore, after being named to the 1971 Southeastern Conference Freshman Team.

As a sophomore, Ball led Ole Miss, averaging 16.8 points and 10 rebounds per game, and was named to the All-SEC Second Team in 1972. With his decision to attend Ole Miss, Ball broke racial barriers for future generations in all sports for the university.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Coolidge Ball — the greatest trailblazer in the history of Ole Miss Athletics,” Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter said in a statement. “He not only broke down walls for future generations of student-athletes but also provided an example for all those who followed him. Coolidge remained an active member of the Ole Miss family throughout his life and always blew me away with his grace and kindness. Our university is forever grateful for his impact as a student-athlete, civil rights leader, and friend to us all.”

In 2021, Ball, who guided Ole Miss to its first consecutive winning seasons since 1936 through 1938, was honored with a statue outside of The Pavilion Plaza, where the Rebels men’s and women’s teams play basketball.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Ball said during the statue’s unveiling. “I’m excited about having a statue. I never dreamed of having one, and I thank the University for it.”

Ball finished his career at Ole Miss with more than 1,000 points and 750 rebounds. Ball was inducted into the Ole Miss Athletics Hall of Fame in 1991, and the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, and was named an SEC Basketball Legend in the class of 2005. He also earned a spot on the Ole Miss Men’s Basketball All-Century Team in 2009.