November 11th, 2011

Hyland's Heroes: Cathy Gravatte Ford

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer

Hyland's Heroes: Cathy Gravatte Ford
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Bellarmine Hall of Famer gives back to her CSAA roots          

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero? Send your recommendation to

Several weeks ago Kay Whelan was the feature subject in our Hyland’s Heroes column. When the former Bellarmine coach discussed the effects of Title IX, she mentioned how important it was in developing women’s athletics and the opportunities it gave to so many talented student-athletes. Instead of the decades-long tradition of graduating high school, getting married and raising a family, these young women could now advance their lives in a different way, on a different path.

Cathy Gravatte Ford was one of those recruits Whelan brought to Bellarmine to play basketball. In fact, Ford was the first woman athlete recruited to Bellarmine and given a scholarship.

The talented Doss High School graduate honed her skills as a youngster at Sts. Simon and Jude school. She played basketball, volleyball and softball in elementary school and excelled in all of them. At Doss she played basketball and ran cross country—“I didn’t run very well, but I ran cross country to get in shape for basketball,” she said laughing—and track.

Afforded an opportunity to go to college through her athletic prowess, Ford discussed how important that scholarship to Bellarmine was for her and her family.

“I couldn’t have gone to school if it wasn’t for that scholarship,” Ford stated. “Being one of seven kids with four cousins living with us, we couldn’t afford college. It was a great opportunity for me.”

She took full advantage of that opportunity by graduating with a Sociology degree and leaving a distinguished mark on the school’s record books. So prolific were her talents—No. 4 all time career scoring and her 68.2% career field goal percentage put her at No. 3 all time—that she was inducted into the Bellarmine Hall of Fame in 1982. She also played volleyball and softball for the Lady Knights.

She met her husband there, too. Tony Ford was a soccer standout for the Knights and was inducted into the Bellarmine Hall of Fame in 1981. A Hall of Fame couple who have left their imprint on hundreds of student athletes in the CSAA.

Ford’s playing career took root at Sts. Simon and Jude. And through some encouragement from a priest at the school, she started officiating games for the CSAA as a freshman in high school. For the next fourteen years Ford was a fixture with her whistle and striped shirt at the CSAA girls games.

“My sister and I played basketball, volleyball and softball at Sts. Simon and Jude. When I started at Doss the priest at the Sts. Simon and Jude wanted us to referee the games there,” she recalled. “I officiated games from my freshman year at Doss until I had my son in 1984 and covered a lot of games for the CSAA.”

As a player, Ford was a top scorer for the team and loved the touch Whelan had as coach.

“There was never a dull moment and it was a lot of fun,” said Ford. “The scholarship was my way into college. No one in my family had gone to college so it was a real blessing. Kay made the game fun for us. We worked hard, but it paid off.”

And that hard work as a player translated to her coaching career. Ford officially started her coaching career at Presentation Academy in 1986. She guided the Toppers for three years while caring for her son Kendrick (St. X class of 2002). When her daughter Kristin (Mercy Academy class of 2004) was born, she took time off from coaching altogether.

But it wasn’t long before she was back on the court. In 1991, with Kendrick at St. Stephen Martyr, she took over the fifth/sixth grade volleyball and softball programs as well as their basketball team. She followed Susie Snyder as the coach and has enjoyed quite a bit of success at the various levels and in the different sports. She took a little time off when her daughter Kristin attended Mercy Academy, but has been on the sidelines for the past eight seasons at St. Stephen Martyr.

“Betty Weihe was my coach as a kid and I just felt a connection with her,” said Ford. “I thought it would be neat to coach when I got older, to give back a little bit and to teach sportsmanship and good skills about each sport I coached. Betty would always play the game with us and run the court with us. I would do the same things with my teams until my knees gave out. It was a good way to connect with my players.”

With her teams, Ford sets high standards for being in good shape and working together; a combination that serves any team very well.

“I always stress hustle and teamwork,” she said. “Once you get on a team, you try to get them to understand that this group is like a family. They may not talk to each other at school, but when you have only eight to ten players on a team you have to talk on defense and interact as a group.”

Her practices are not meant to be easy. Ford tries to teach life lessons about working through obstacles and conquering challenges through working hard and working together.

“We practice hard and always end with a prayer,” she said. “Kids will probably remember our practices with me saying ‘Run!’ quite a bit. They have to be in shape for our style of play. I get a great deal of satisfaction to see these girls move on to play in high school. It’s great to see them after years have passed and get a hug or catch up with them. It’s the reward you get for helping coach them when they’re young.”


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