By Joey Jones
Associate Media Relations Director
In the early 1970s, three men came to Ole Miss to play sports. They could run, jump and play their sport as well as any collegiate athlete. They were smart and looking for a quality education.
But there was one thing that was different about Coolidge Ball, James Reed and Ben Williams as they made their college choice. They were black and lived in a time when no African Americans had yet stepped foot on a basketball court, football field or any other athletic arena for the Rebels.
This brings us to the present. As the nation celebrates Black History Month, the Ole Miss family can look back with pride on the breakthrough achievements of these three men.
Eight years after James Meredith became the first African-American student at Ole Miss, a young man from Indianola named Coolidge Ball was looking for a place to play ball in college.
The 6-foot-5 forward was a standout at Gentry High School, averaging 28 points and 20 rebounds in his prep career.
After narrowing his choices down to Northwestern University, New Mexico State, Arizona State and Ole Miss, Ball decided there was no place better than right near home, so he decided to be a Rebel.
That decision paid great dividends for Ball, and for the Rebels. In his first year, Ball helped the Ole Miss freshman team to a 20-3 record, while he averaged 22.7 points per a game and 16.2 boards. It was then that head coach Cob Jarvis knew Ball could be something special.
Upon arriving at Ole Miss, Ball was most interested in just being apart of the team. Ball was quoted in the Mississippian as just wanting to be treated "like a human being, like any other 18-year-old freshman. I'm not treated any more special than any other basketball freshman."
Ball did admit, though, that he was interested in seeing Ole Miss move in a more progressive direction in the future.
"I can't really say I was afraid to come to Ole Miss. I just hope maybe we'll be able to sign other black athletes now that I've kind of broken the ice."
It's safe to say that Ole Miss has done just that. Soon after Ball arrived at Ole Miss, the Rebels signed Reed and Williams to football scholarships. In the years following Ball's arrival, the basketball team welcomed Dean Hudson and Walter Actwood.
In 2010, the breakthrough of one man, followed by the determination of several others, has led to opportunities for so many men and women that now don the Red and Blue and play vital roles across the entire athletics program.
During his three-year varsity career for the Rebels, Ball would amass 1,000 points and 750 rebounds, which both rank high on the all-time lists at Ole Miss. In the spring of 2005, Ball was honored at the SEC Championship as one of the Living Legends of SEC Basketball.
Since his playing days, Ball has been a longtime resident of Oxford and put his Art and Advertising degree to good use as the founder /owner of Ball Sign Company.
In the fall of 1971, Reed and Williams entered the Ole Miss campus as the first two African Americans to play football for the Ole Miss Rebels. Reed, a native of Meridian, was the less touted of the two, but a standout student-athlete nonetheless.
In his Rebel career, the speedy tailback rushed for 1,309 yards and found the endzone nine times on his way to All-SEC honorable mention honors all three years. Reed was drafted in the ninth round by the NFL's Cleveland Browns in May 1976.
But perhaps Reed's greatest success has come away from the football field. Upon graduation from Ole Miss with a degree in Public Administration and Law Enforcement (with minors in Political Science and Sociology), Reed entered law enforcement, working with Mississippi Departments of Justice and Corrections until 1985.
Since then, Reed has been a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), serving various roles and drawing assignments in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Corpus Christi, Texas, Camp Lejune, N.C., and the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., among others.
Reed, who has been ordained a Deacon at New Hope Baptist Church in Meridian, is married to the former Melinda Gail Fairley. The couple has a son, Brad, and a daughter, Ashley.
Reed is certainly a great role model for all people, regardless of race or color, to admire.
One of the most popular players in Ole Miss History, "Gentle" Ben Williams was a first-team All-American selection in 1975 and a three-time All-SEC performer as a defensive tackle for the Rebels.
Williams finished his four-year Rebel career with 377 tackles and still holds the Ole-Miss single-season record with 18 quarterback sacks in 1973.
Williams says that he was just grateful to be able to play for the Rebels.
"I think it's a great thing that I had a chance to make history and be a part of history," Williams said. "But maybe my biggest accomplishment was that I had the opportunity to play as a freshman. I am very thankful that I had the chance to play in the SEC and play at such a high level."
As a senior, the Yazoo City native received the highest honor given by the Ole Miss student body when he was elected Colonel Rebel by his fellow students.
Upon the end of his Rebel playing career, Williams was a third-round pick by the NFL's Buffalo Bills in 1976, becoming Ole Miss' highest draft pick at the time since Rebel legend Archie Manning was selected as the second overall pick in the first round in 1971.
Williams had a solid NFL career with some highly successful Bills teams, playing for 10 years from 1976-1985, including a Pro Bowl appearance in 1982.
Always a leader, Williams was team captain for Yazoo City High School while also lettering in baseball during his prep career. As a senior for the Rebels, Williams was one of the three captains for the gridiron squad, and with the Bills, he was a defensive co-captain for much of his career.
Williams has since been honored as a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Ole Miss Sports Hall of Fame and as a Legend of SEC Football.
The man who still calls himself "just a good 'ole country boy" has gone to be a successful businessman in the Jackson area. He and his wife Linda have three children, Rodrick, Ayesha and Jarrett.
These three men, along with countless others, have helped pave the way of progress and make Ole Miss a great place for African Americans to play sports and be successful student-athletes, coaches and administrators.
Originally published on OleMissSports.com in February 2006.