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Seventy-five years later, Dot Ford, now Dot Burrow, gets her due

Dot Burrow, right, with her husband James, is proud of grandson Joe, and he is mighty proud of her.

Seventy-five years ago, a tall, thin teen-aged girl named Dot Ford scored 82 points in a high school basketball game in the tiny, northeast Mississippi town of Smithville. She averaged right at 50 points a game for the entire 1949-50 season.

Ford scored 50 points or more in 12 games. For the season, she averaged nearly two points per minute. She was a Hill Country basketball hero, big news in basketball-crazy Monroe County, Her exploits even made headlines in the newspapers nearly 200 miles away in Jackson and in Memphis.

Rick Cleveland
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Rick Cleveland

But her fame was short-lived. Back then, there was no women’s college basketball to speak of. Her basketball career ended quietly. She married her high school sweetheart, James Burrow, who had been a starting point guard at Mississippi State. Together, they raised an athletic family in nearby Amory. Dot and James lived in the same house for more than 60 years. Still do, for that matter.

All that was left of those Smithville basketball glory days were a few newspaper clippings and her own memories, and that was fine. Besides, sons Jimmy, who played football for national champion Nebraska, and Johnny, who played for Ole Miss, were making more memories. In recent years, grandson Joe – yes, that Joe Burrow – has become, by far, the most famous Burrow of all.

Basketball star Dot Ford was a largely forgotten legend. Know this:  “Was” is the operative word here. Her basketball excellence is forgotten no more.

Do you believe in fate? If the answer is no, read on for the rest of this story.

We move forward to March of 2023 and to the town of Amory, where a horrific tornado had blown away much of the town. A Jackson journalist – this one actually – had made the three-hour drive to Amory to write about how people in the town of 6,600 were coping with immense damage.

I was searching for the high school baseball field where the 2022 state champions played their games. Dodging downed trees in a nearby neighborhood, I pulled over and asked directions. Major coincidence: The second guy I approached just happened to be the baseball coach, Chris Pace, who was helping neighbors clean up their yards.

He pointed out a house a few doors down and told me it was the home of the grandparents of LSU’s Heisman Trophy winner and Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. I walked that way and met Jimmy Burrow, Dot’s son and Joe’s dad, who had driven all night from his Ohio home and was helping his parents deal with major damage to their house.

Jimmy Burrow, outside his parents’ Amory home in March of 2023/
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Jimmy Burrow, outside his parents’ Amory home in March of 2023/

The front of the house looked fine. Hidden from view was the rear of the house where the fireplace chimney had fallen through the ripped-apart roof and into the den. There was major structural damage, but the Burrows were safe. They had ridden out the tornado in the storm cellar they had built under their carport after the killer tornado that hit nearby Smithville in 2011, killing 16.

His parents, both in their early 90s, were shaken, Jimmy said, but they would be fine. In the course of the conversation, he told me about his mother’s basketball accomplishments all those years ago. I filed it away.

A few days later, after writing about the tornado wreckage, I searched through newspaper archives, confirmed all Dot Burrow’s remarkable statistics, and wrote the largely forgotten story of Dot Ford Burrow.

The good people at the Mississippi High School Activities Association, the governing body of Mississippi high school sports, took it from there. They nominated Dot Burrow for the National High School Hall of Fame. Just as they suspected, Dot Ford Burrow was a no-brainer. The long-awaited announcement came Tuesday. Dot Burrow will be one of four former athletes and four coaches who will be inducted into the national high.school hall of fame in the Class of 2024 this summer at Indianapolis.

Jimmy Burrow says his mother was shocked and quite emotional. She knew she had been nominated, but she never expected to join the likes of Walter Payton in a national hall of fame, not after 75 years.

Joe Burrow and his grandmother, Dot.
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Joe Burrow and his grandmother, Dot.

Joe Burrow is one proud grandson. Said Joe Burrow when he learned the news: “My grandmother was an incredible athlete and a generational basketball player, and is arguably the best athlete in the family. Knowing how great she was has motivated me to be the best I could be in all sports.”

Baseball Hall of Famer Joe Mauer, who once hit 43 home runs for his Minnesota high school baseball team, is probably the biggest name in this year’s class. Former Auburn and NFL football star Takeo Spikes, another inductee, once caught 24 touchdown passes and made 238 tackles for his undefeated Sandersville (Georgia) High football team. Forty-three home runs, 24 touchdown passes and 238 tackles are remarkable statistics.

But then so are 82 points in a single game and a 50-point scoring average for a season. Three quarters of a century later, Dot Ford Burrow finally gets the recognition she deserves.

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