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Death of Athletics' Jerry Ford, an Architect of the Ivy League

The University of Pennsylvania athletic family recently lost one of its very own when former Penn Athletic Director Jeremiah Ford II passed away at the age of 87. Mr. Ford, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, died on December 6 in Rogers, Arkansas, where he had lived in a nursing home for the past two years.

Mr. Ford's place in Quaker athletic history began nearly 70 years ago when he entered Penn as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a member of the football and baseball squads for three years (freshman were ineligible) and was known for his outstanding running ability. As a senior, he led the Quakers to a 27-13 victory over Wisconsin. He later was rewarded by being named the Class of 1915 Award winner (for that member of his class who most closely approaches the ideal Pennsylvania athlete.

Mr. Ford returned to Penn in 1937 to serve as the Supervisor of Freshman Athletics, freshman football coach, and assistant instructor in English. He served in this capacity for four years, before World War II called.

Mr. Ford returned to his alma mater in 1953 as Director of Athletics and he helped form what is known today as the Ivy League. During his tenure as AD, Mr. Ford was chairman of the Ivy League Administrative Committee and a member of the Executive Council of the Eastern College Athletic Association, and the Executive Council of the NCAA.

During his 14-year tenure as athletic director Mr. Ford helped Penn and the Ivy League move toward academic ideals, and he along with the other seven peer schools helped define the true concept of student-athlete. Mr. Ford's 1953 appointment led to the official alignment of the Ivy League in 1956 when the Council of Ivy Group Presidents went into effect.

An article written by Jerry Ford over 30 years ago (October 1966) resonates for athletics today: "In the Ivy Group, my mother lode, and institutions of like persuasions, he has had some attention paid to him as an athlete. Steps have been taken to protect us from him and him from the world. One might say we have deodorized him, decommer-cialized his arena, and chosen for him his peer groupthe group in which we can hate enough to beat each other but trust enough to schedule each other. But even in our rarified atmosphere more must be done to educate him through his athletic experiences. We have to change an institutional attitude here and there, and eliminate a whole series of outmoded regulations and procedures to realize the full promise an Ivy president's official statement, `Participation in athletic competition is appropriately a part of the American educational process.' "

Jerry Ford was a man who always kept the proper balance of athletics and academics in its proper perspective. He is survived by his wife Rita, and children, Jeremiah M. Ford III and Sally Knapp.

--Shaun May, Office of Communications,
Recreation and Intercollegiate Athletics

Return to:Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, December 16, 1997, Volume 44, Number 16