Jim "Happy" Ford

In a column about former German Township High School star Robert "Buddy" Ward, I wrote that in sports sometimes two players become forever linked to each other; for instance, Davis and Blanchard in football and Mantle and Maris in baseball. Former German Township High School football standouts Robert "Buddy" Ward and James "Happy" Ford will always be linked by their exploits together on the gridiron.

Chuck Muncie  

Ford, now 83, was an outstanding fullback for the Uhlans from 1950 to 1952 and Ward was a halfback.

Ford graduated from German in 1953. He excelled in football, basketball and track and field.

The Uhlans football squad under the guidance of Head Coach Lou Rozzi was a power during the 1950's. German captured the Fayette County Class A championship in 1950 and went 6-4 in 1951. Ford and his running mate Ward ran wild in 1952 tallying 28 touchdowns between them and forging a ticket to the WPIAL Class A championship game against Midland.

Ford said his old coach Rozzi was a tough customer.

"He was a tough guy, but he was fair," Ford recalled. "He gave us a long rein and molded us into a group. I personally think that particular group was one of the best they ever had at German.

German had an outstanding supporting cast around Ford and Ward.

"Nobody talks much about the quarterback that we had," Ford explained. "That was Jimmy Carter and the other running back was Walt Saunders. That backfield also participated in track and we ran the quarter mile and we did an excellent job in the WPIAL."

Ford and Ward garnered All-County honors in 1951 and were unanimous choices to the 1952 squad as Ward paced the county in scoring with 104 points and Ford racked up 98 points. They were dubbed the "touchdown twins."

"As long as we were there and doing it - there was never any animosity or jealousy. It's your turn now and my turn is later. It was a close knit team and Ward and I were close. We didn't have tremendous size. We had a lot of guys who were really dedicated to what they were doing. Guys like Buddy Bergman, who was a tackle and Joe Yonish, who was our center. My playing weight ranged from about 180 pounds to 175 pounds and I was 5-9. So I wasn't a big back," Ford stated.

The Uhlans lost the WPIAL Championship game to Midland in a game played at Dormont, 14-6. Mike Karas' 79-yard third quarter punt return snapped a 6-6 deadlock and propelled Midland to victory. The game wasn't without controversy as Ward gathered in a Midland punt on his own 28, reversed field twice and bolted 62 yards to the end zone. The play was nullified by a clipping penalty.

"That was a killer, that took away your heart," Ford lamented. "We were called for that mistake, and this was our first time being in any postseason game. It was just unfortunate that we came out on the losing end."

The Uhlans were an outstanding team during this period and dominated some of their close rivals such as South Union, Georges Township and Masontown.

"I used to tell everybody in Edenborn - get to the game early because it's going to be over quick," Ford joked.

Ford has one regret from his high school days.

"Back then I would have loved to have played Uniontown," Ford said. "We wanted to play Ronnie Manning and Frank Henderson and those guys and we just never scheduled it. I think we would have surprised a lot of people."

When he graduated Ford had a local offer from Waynesburg and Arizona State offered, but he decided to attend Lincoln University in Jefferson City, MO.

"Lincoln had a history of scouting players from Western Pennsylvania," Ford said. "Our Athletic Director at Lincoln was from Pittsburgh. His name was Ray Kemp and he did a lot of recruiting basketball wise too because he was athletic director and the head basketball coach. The football coach was Dwight Reed and he went to the University of Minnesota and made All-American there as a defensive end. Reed recruited hard in Pennsylvania and when I went out to Lincoln, we had approximately 12 players from Western Pennsylvania."

Ford played on some very competitive teams at Lincoln.

"I played in the backfield there with Leo Lewis, who made the little All-America squad," Ford reported. "I played out there from 1953 through 1956. We were always either first or second in the Midwest Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and we played some great teams like Tennessee State, Alcorn A&M, Jackson State, Kentucky State and Central State in Ohio. I played against some tremendous athletes."

Reflecting on his college career, Ford is pleased.

"I loved it," Ford gushed. "I loved it at Lincoln and I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. I made some real, real good friends."

When he graduated from Lincoln he was drafted into the Army.

"As soon as I finished at Lincoln I was drafted the next month into the Army," Ford offered. "I was in the Army two years and I played football in the Army when I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. That was really competitive football - we played some of the Army teams and we also played some of the college teams as well."

After the Army, he came home for a couple of months.

"Mario Tiberi wanted me to stay at home and be the first black coach at German," Ford recalled. "He took me down to the school board and I filled out an application, but I never heard anything from them, but I really wanted to do some coaching at German."

When that didn't work out Ford left and went to St. Louis, where his girlfriend, Iona, resided. He married her and entered the teaching profession.

"I taught physical education on the elementary level for about eight years," Ford stated. "Then I moved up to the high school level. I was at Vashon High School and I coached football from 1969 to 1975 as an assistant. I became the head coach in 1975 and held that position for four years. Then the principal of the school wanted me to become the Athletic Director - you couldn't have both jobs and I became AD in 1979 and I gave it up and retired in 2003."

Ford looks back on his teaching career with a great deal of pride.

"After I became the Athletic Director at Vashon - I went to Washington University in St. Louis and I got my masters in athletic administration," Ford said. "I really enjoyed what I did most of the time during my high school teaching days, I became a disciplinarian - an assistant principal and I did that for over 20 years. I got to help and guide a lot of kids and athletes. One of my guys was Morris Towns who played tackle for the Houston Oilers."

Ford lost his wife Iona in 2005. He still resides in St. Louis, but gets back to Fayette County often.

"I was just back for the funeral of my Aunt - Pearl English," Ford explained. "She and her husband had been married for almost 69 years and he is still getting along real good. I usually try to get in there at least twice a year."

He hasn't forgotten his roots.

"I grew up in a great era and Edenborn in particular - I was talking with a friend of mine and we were talking about the tremendous athletes that came out of German from Edenborn and it is really tremendous."


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