College notes: OU rallies around trainer with ALS

Tony Paul

For the hundreds and hundreds of Oakland University athletes Tom Ford has helped heal over his decades on the job, it’s sadly ironic that there’s not much he can do to help heal himself.

The university announced this weekend that Ford is stepping down from his job after being diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

There is no known cure for the neurodegenerative disease.

“Tom spent his life keeping our athletes healthy, and now it’s on us to help him as he goes through this health issue,” men’s basketball coach Greg Kampe said in a statement.

“As a coach, colleague and friend, I am indebted to him for his service and will always be there for him. He will always be a part of our program.”

Ford began his job as Oakland’s athletic trainer in 1988, and has worked with the men’s and women’s basketball teams since taking the job. This past year, he also has worked with the men’s and women’s soccer and golf teams.

A Rochester Hills resident, he was an honoree for the Michigan Athletic Trainer’s Society’s distinguished athletic trainer award. He’s also worked at the Olympic Training Center with the men’s hockey team, as well as with speedskaters at the Winter World University Games.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Ball State and a master’s degree from Arizona, before spending time as an assistant trainer with the Dallas Cowboys. Ford, though, is most-known for his work at Oakland, well-respected and admired by his own athletes and colleagues, as well as his peers throughout the Horizon League.

“Lou Gehrig once said in a speech that he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” Ford said in the Oakland news release. “Well I’m here to tell you that I feel equally lucky. I could never have done this without the support of my family and for that I’m very grateful. The university, the athletics department and the tremendous student-athletes that I have had the pleasure working with have made it fun to come to work every day. That will be the thing I miss the most, the relationships that have been built over time.

“I’m not going anywhere and I plan on battling this difficult disease with every challenge it gives me.”

In honor of Ford, Oakland has announced it will rename its annual Black and Gold Spirit Award, to the Tom Ford Black and Gold Spirit Award. The award is handed out at the Black and Gold Awards each spring. More homage to Ford is expected within the athletic department, the university said. The basketball team will host Tom Ford Day at the O’Rena on Dec. 9, before the game against Chicago State.

In the release, Ford said he would like to volunteer with the ALS Foundation.

Ford and his wife, Kathy, have three children and one granddaughter.

“Tom Ford is an institution at this university,” athletic director Jeff Konya said. “He is always welcome within these walls and we owe him and his family a debt of gratitude.”

Dream washed away

Oakland softball didn’t have its best team this year. Nobody’s arguing otherwise. It was a long shot to win the Horizon League tournament. That said, a strange ruling didn’t help its cause, either.

In its opening game of the double-elimination tournament in Chicago on Wednesday, the game made it to the fifth inning before some strong rains came.

Valparaiso led, 1-0, and Oakland’s pitcher, Erin Kownacki, was throwing a two-hitter.

Yet, that was that. Game over. Oakland was sent to the loser’s bracket.

“Very upsetting,” Oakland coach Connie Miner said Thursday morning. “My heart is just torn out for my team. This is championship play, but the committee ruled the way they did when the game wasn’t completed. It’s just really unfortunate how it all ended and how they ruled.”

According to assistant commissioner Julie Roe Lach, the Horizon Leagee goes by NCAA rules in such situations, and calls the game official as long as the team that’s losing got to bat in the fifth inning.

That seems odd, given the league’s regular-season rules call for seven innings to be completed. Yet, in tournament play — with an NCAA Tournament bid at stake -- five innings, somehow, is deemed OK.

The ideal solution, of course, would be to suspend the game, then restart it at the point of the suspension whenever the weather clears, whether it’s later that night (lights are required to host the Horizon League tournament), or before the scheduled games the next morning.

“It’s possible that the league could develop a rule governing halted play during the championship to supersede the NCAA rule below,” Lach said. “However, the league does not currently have such a rule for the softball championship.”

Konya, the Oakland athletic director, said he expects discussion on a rule change at the next league meeting.

Oakland (20-26) played Detroit Mercy in its loser’s bracket game and was eliminated with a 4-1 loss.

This and that

Central Michigan’s softball team won the Mid-American Conference regular-season championship, but was ousted in the tournament.

That capped the spectacular career of senior Rachael Knapp, a senior from St. Joseph who, this year, was 22-10 with a 1.44 ERA and 256 strikeouts in 224 innings.

For her career, the MAC pitcher of the year set program records in appearances (138), complete games (83) and innings (752.2); is second in strikeouts (823); and third in wins (69).

How’s this for a cool auction item: The Super Soaker Michigan basketball coach John Beilein used in a sneak attack on his team following its victory to get to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament.

Signed by Beilein, the water gun was one of the auction items at Saturday night’s Champions for Change Gala in Ann Arbor, where hundreds attended to raise money for the ChadTough Foundation.

The Super Soaker sold for $1,225.

It’s been a trying year for Oakland baseball (14-35, 10-16), as it tries out the rare, co-coaching situation. But there was an exciting finish in the opener of a doubleheader against Youngstown State on Sunday, when sophomore Jordan Jackson stepped to the plate as a pinch-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning — and launched a walk-off, three-run homer for a 7-5 victory.

Oakland had blown a 3-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning.