What started as a bit of a joke in early fall turned into reality. On campus, junior Ali Ford is best known for being the star point guard on Elon’s women’s basketball team. But as of this year, she is also a member of the Phoenix softball team.
In October, Elon’s softball program held tryouts to anyone interested in joining the team. Ford, who had played softball all four years of high school, decided to seek the approval of women’s basketball coach Charlotte Smith to try out for the team.
“One day I was in the gym shooting, and Coach Smith was rebounding for me,” Ford said. “I kind of asked her jokingly, but she didn’t miss a beat. She was just like ‘Softball? Yeah, why not? Do what you want.’ I was standing there trying to have a serious conversation with her, but she just kept throwing the ball.”
Smith was not joking.
“You only live life once. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I wanted her to be able to experience that,” Smith said.
After putting Ford through a few “basic things” such as hitting, fielding and running the bases, head softball coach Kathy Bocock sat down with her staff and decided Ford would be a good addition to the team, making her the first dual-sport athlete at Elon since Scott Riddle was the starting quarterback for the football team as well as a third baseman and a catcher for the baseball team in 2010.
“She’s a natural athlete,” Bocock said. “We put her through hitting and fielding. She has a good arm and she’s fast so everything about her is a total package as far as an athlete.”
Players on the softball team enjoy Ford's presence as a teammate.
“We love her,” said senior shortstop Danielle Lafferty. “She’s just energetic and crazy at times, and sometimes (when) she says things, you’re like, ‘Where did that come from?’ She’s just great for our team dynamic.”
For Ford, being a dual-sport athlete isn’t as much of a challenge as some might think. In fact, it’s something she said she’s always wanted to do, but just hasn’t worked out in college until now.
“Growing up, I always played as many things as I could at one time,” Ford said. “So when I got here, it was completely different. I was focused on basketball 100 percent and I had never done that before. I’ve always done this, so it’s like a feeling of getting back to what I had always done.”
While being a dual-sport athlete sounds like it would take hours upon hours out of a day to focus on sports, the NCAA only allows student-athletes 20 hours of practice for all sports, which limits the amount of activity she can have with basketball.
“The deal with Coach Smith was that after basketball season, I was expected to become a full-time softball player,” Ford said. “They’re not holding me accountable for anything.”
Since softball practices generally run from 2-6 p.m. daily, there is not a lot of time left over for Ford to be a basketball player and still follow the NCAA’s 20-hour rule. Ford attends basketball weight lifting at 6 a.m. Fridays, saying, “If I can make it, I’m going to do it.”
Since Ford only attends one basketball workout a week, one of her biggest fears was that the team would start to resent her for not being at all of the postseason workouts, but that hasn’t been the case at all.
“Every time I see them, they ask me how softball is going and they always show up to games with signs,” Ford said. “The first couple weeks, I didn’t even see the field, but running between innings and throwing, they’d be holding their signs and yelling my name, so the past couple of weeks when I’ve been playing, even two or three of the guys from the men’s team have come out and my softball teammates are like ‘This is great!’”
It’s clear Ford has the support from both of the programs players, but it also helps to have two supportive coaches who know what it’s like to juggle two sports. Smith participated in basketball and track and field at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Smith is one of only two players in UNC history to have her number retired. Bocock might not have played two sports, but she coached both softball and baseball at Averett University before arriving at Elon.
Ford started slowly, but has worked her way into the starting lineup as the team's second baseman. She had her first career RBI against North Carolina State University in a 7-1 victory April 19.
“Ali’s the type of kid who doesn’t like to sit around when a season’s over,” Bocock said. “She’s the type of kid that’s very talented and has a great work ethic, so this has come very easy to her.”
If you asked Ford’s partner in crime in the middle of the diamond, shortstop Lafferty, and her roommate and junior Kelsey Evans, who is a forward on the women's basketball team at Elon, they both wonder how she does it.
“I sit at home and I’m like ‘I don’t know how you do it,’” Evans says. “I think it takes a particular kind of person to do something like (being a dual-sport athlete). Ali is the perfect person to do this. She has the perfect personality.”
Lafferty said she wishes she could do the same.
“I congratulate her,” she said. “I always thought about joining the basketball team, but there’s no way. The time it would take, it’s just crazy.”