Hart's Ford Drives Into Sunset

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Retirement, Dennis Ford quips, will suit him to a T. Or is that a tee?

Either way, Ford, 61, among the region's most respected coaches, will call it a career next week when he retires after 33 years as a science teacher and coach of several sports at Hart High.

Known widely as a guru among softball pitchers, Ford also is architect of one of Southern California's best high school golf programs over the last decade, as well as a five-time club champion at Vista Valencia Golf Course.

Soon he plans to spend time on the course working on no one's backswing but his own.

"I plan to play more golf," Ford said with a smile. "I've been waiting for this for a long time."

For now, he will keep a watchful eye on Brian Edick, the only Hart entry among 15 golfers from the region competing today in the boys' CIF-Southern California Golf Assn. Championships at the SCGA Members' Club course in Murrieta.

Ford watched wistfully Monday as Edick, a junior, chipped balls from fringe to practice green, rolling them within inches of the cup.

It's part of a longstanding Ford regimen: chip and one-putt, chip and one-putt. Ford requires varsity golfers to perform the task 14 times in a row.

After chipping, Edick turns to putting and displays equal precision.

"One day he made a 150 five-footers in a row," Ford said. "I've been very lucky with the golfers I've had. That's been a big part of it."

Ford has coached several successful golfers at Hart--Jason Gore, Jason Semelsberger and Mike Miller, to name a few--since taking over the program in 1990. The Indians have since dominated the Foothill League, winning 11 titles in 12 years and placing second in the Southern Section in 1999.

Edick, a freshman with the varsity two seasons ago, will be the last of a long line of Ford's proteges. He has posted eight sub-par rounds in his career, tying him with Gore for the school record for a junior.

Ford said Edick is potentially as good as any golfer he's coached. Edick, who began playing at age 11, said the future without Ford is difficult to imagine.

"It will be kind of interesting to see how hard it will be to adjust to a new coach," Edick said. "But I know he'll be around to help out."

Ford intends to continue his longstanding vocation of providing private lessons, both on the golf course and in the batting cage.

For years, softball pitchers of all ages have trod a path to Ford's Santa Clarita home for private pitching lessons. Ford estimates booking as many as 88 clients a week for half-hour sessions.

That number has decreased to about 15, Ford said.

Among Ford's best students was his daughter, Samantha, a pitching star at Hart and UCLA during the 1980s and now an elementary school teacher in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Ford was softball coach at Hart for eight seasons and also coached football.

Golfers don't figure to stop counting on Ford, either. He serves as president of the men's club at Vista Valencia Golf Course.

His tireless dedication to repetition molds golfers into better players. But his soft approach is what sells.

"He makes practice fun," Edick said. "I used to go out and grind and not have any fun, or as much as I have now. He has some games that we all play."

Edick usually wins.

"By and large, he kicks my butt," Ford said.

And that's no joke.

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Teeing Off

Area golfers participating today in the CIF-Southern California Golf Assn. Championships at SCGA Members' Club course in Murrieta.

Jeremy Bovill: Agoura

Colin Wilcox: Camarillo

Phil Bahn: El Camino Real

Carey Evans: El Camino Real

Sean Shehab: El Camino Real

Jeff Osborn: Flintridge Prep

Steve Harsha: Granada Hills

Phillip Martinez: Granada Hills

Robby Minovitz: Granada Hills

Mike Ross: Granada Hills

John Terceman: Granada Hills

Brian Wellisch: Granada Hills

Brian Edick: Hart

Eric Torak: Taft

Brian O'Flaherty: Westlake

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