Bob Ford and Deb Ford Luedeke
SPRINGVILLE — Bob Ford turned down an opportunity to be inducted into the Cattaraugus County Sports Hall of Fame for four years.
The fifth year proved to be different.
Ford chose to accept the nomination because he was going to be inducted with his daughter, Deb Ford Luedeke.
“I’m old. What am I going to do? I’m 72,” he joked. “I wanted to be here for my daughter and be with her family. It’s genes. My family has always been competitive in sports.”
Bob Ford and Deb Ford Luedeke, both graduates of West Valley, were inducted into the Hall of Fame on March 29 at a ceremony held at the Little Valley American Legion. A total of 15 new members were inducted into the hall of fame that now includes more than 120 members.
“It’s an honor to be inducted into the [Cattaraugus] County Hall of Fame,” Ford said. It’s a real pleasure. It’s even more exciting for me that my daughter is being inducted with me.”
Ford flew in from California to be at the ceremony. He began his athletic career playing seventh and eighth-grade basketball, nearly 62 years ago. Ford was one of the first athletes in West Valley history to letter in four sports, in all four years of high school. He was a four-time Cattaraugus County all-star in basketball. He scored 1,257 points and grabbed 1,137 rebounds in his four years on varsity. In football, he rushed for 1,058 yards and 22 touchdowns. In baseball, he carried a .300 batting average. In track and field, he set seven school records at West Valley and also set two Section VI records.
“I think athletics are very important for high school kids,” Ford said. “If they get involved with athletics – hopefully it keeps them out of trouble and gives them a direction to what they want to do. If they’re good enough, it’ll help with an education.”
Deb Ford Luedeke flew in from North Carolina, to attend the ceremony. Luedeke earned 15 letters at West Valley – playing soccer, volleyball, basketball and bowling, as well as track and field. She was an all-star in four different sports and finished second in New York state in the high jump. Luedeke still owns eight school records at West Valley in track and field. As a senior at West Valley, she was named the Big 30 Track Athlete of the Year, Most Outstanding Athlete in Cattaraugus County and received the Cattaraugus County Directors Award. She went on to attend Penn State on a full scholarship, where she ran track.
“The great honor is being able to be inducted with my father,” Luedeke said. “I have great memories of wonderful athletic events in Cattaraugus County. It’s a great honor. There’s a lot of great athletes – I don’t know how the pick or how they decide, but I feel very blessed and honored.”
Mark Benton, of Gowanda, an organizer and founder of the event, was inducted into the hall, but without any knowledge of it, before the ceremony. Benton was acting as the speaker of ceremonies until Denny Crouse sprang up from the audience.
“Pardon the interruption, Mark,” Crouse said. “Before you get started with the program tonight, Dave [Robbins] and I would like to say a few words about you.”
Crouse and Robbins recognized Benton for his services to Gowanda as a coach, player and writer. Benton was the director of football operations at Jim Kelly’s Football Camp from 1988-1996. He has coached 16 years of high school football at Gowanda and Dunkirk and has also coached 13 years of track and field and 10 years of basketball.
Benton also published two books – “Mark my Words” and “Through the Eyes of a Panther.”
“Mark certainly enjoys giving back to the community and its youth, through sports and educational opportunities,” Robbins said. “We are pleased to present this plaque to Mark, as one of the newest members of the Cattaraugus County Hall of Fame.
Other members inducted included: Gary Swetland (Portville), Ronald Ashworth (Pioneer), Geoffrey Dietrich (Salamanca), Bob Emke (Ellicottville), Rick Feuz (Cattaraugus-Little Valley), John Fitzpatrick (Hinsdale), Louise Freeman (Randolph), George Hicker (Franklinville), Tom Howard (Allegany-Limestone), John Kokel (Gowanda), Carolyn Shields (Olean) and Joe Smith (Franklinville).