TUPELO – Ricky Black was athletics director and head football coach at Tupelo High School when Puddie Ruff’s Golden Wave tennis teams won state championships in 1985 and ’86.
As Black, now head football coach for Jackson Prep, recalls, “Miss Puddie” often reminded him of the significance of her program.
“She knew tennis was more important than football and she coached it that way,” Black said, then chuckled. “Really, I have the greatest respect for what she did. She was a pioneer when it came to making tennis a big sport in Mississippi on the high school level.
“Puddie was was the class of tennis coaches in the state.”
Ruff, 84, who died Friday in Southaven, was more than a tennis coach. She was an educator, civic leader and taught swimming for 50 years. However, her success in tennis is were she earned notoriety.
Along with winning two state titles, Ruff’s Golden Wave teams won 19 consecutive division championships. Her career record at THS was an amazing 150-6 (.962 win percentage). She was named high school National Coach of the Year in 1984.
“Puddie was a person who had a great desire for the game; she loved tennis,” said longtime Corinth coach Lynn Wood, whose teams have won 14 state titles. “Her Tupelo teams were always good. I started coaching in the ’70s and always tried to play Tupelo.
“She always promoted tennis. She was ‘Miss Tennis’ in the state.”
In an interview with the Daily Journal prior to Tupelo’s 1986 state championship win, Ruff said of her players: “They are going to Jackson to win. They don’t like finishing second. If they don’t win, it will be because they were overpowered … because they know what to do.”
Ruff’s granddaughter, Bess, helped the THS tennis program win its tenth state championship in 2009 when she and Laura Hamm won their girls doubles match to lead the Golden Wave past Oak Grove in the Class 6A finals.
Ruff, the Daily Journal’s high school player of the year in soccer in 2009, and Hamm had to win their match at Bridges Tennis Center in Jackson to give Tupelo the championship.
“My grandmother tried to teach me to play, but I was always too busy with soccer,” Bess Ruff said after that match. “Tennis is a big deal for our family and it’s a big deal for me to be a part of that legacy.”
Puddie Ruff is survived by four children and 13 grandchildren.
Contact Gene Phelps at 678-1593
Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal