Father and Son share Raider Championship Bond
When the NJCAA men’s basketball national championship game ended last March and the Northwest Florida State College Raiders had capped their title run with an 83-80 win over South Plains, Texas — their second national championship in school history — Athletic Director Ramsey Ross found his father and embraced him.
It was a heartfelt gesture between father and son, a single moment bridging two decades.
Twenty years earlier, Ray Ross had been on the Raiders’ bench as an assistant coach in the very same gym in Hutchinson, Kansas, when Okaloosa-Walton Community College, as the school was known then, captured the 1995 national championship.
“The fact we were able to relive this is truly special,” Ramsey said. “It was special for me because Dad was there. Being able to give him a big hug after we won is something I’ll always cherish.”
There was no question Ray would be in Hutchinson to watch the Raiders compete in the NJCAA tournament. He has been part of the Raiders basketball program almost since its inception, serving as the second head basketball coach in school history from 1969 to 1978. But when athletics were disbanded at the college in 1978 — not to be reinstated until 1991 — Ray moved on to become an assistant coach at Mississippi State University. Ramsey was born in Starkville, Miss., before the family moved back to Northwest Florida and Ray started his new job as head coach of the Fort Walton Beach High School boys basketball team.
Ray led the Vikings for 13 seasons, from 1981 to 1994, and then decided it was time to retire from coaching. But the year before in 1993, an old friend, Murray Arnold, had been hired as head coach of the Raiders. Arnold and Ray had first crossed paths as high school coaches in central Florida in the 1960s, and later Arnold was a fellow assistant with Ray at Mississippi State. So the newly retired coach decided to drop by and watch his former colleague run the Raiders’ practice.
“Dad retired. We thought that would be it for coaching,” Ramsey said, recalling that his father would leave the house and say, “I’m just going to go out and watch practice.” Once a week turned into several times a week which turned into five days a week.
Then his family got a surprise. “We got the (Raiders) roster and it said, ‘Ray Ross, assistant coach,’ ” Ramsey said. “He just couldn’t stay away from it and pass up this opportunity.”
That first season with Ray as a Raiders assistant turned into a memorable one. Ray recalls that the team had gone 8-4 in the Panhandle Conference and entered postseason play without any expectations. They were just taking it game by game, Ray said, and “really got on a roll.” Winning the state championship propelled the Raiders to the NJCAA tournament in Hutchinson for the first time, where the Raiders were largely overlooked by the field. Athletics had only been reinstated at the college a few years before, and the Raiders were not considered a national power like they are today.